Malaysian dissident Anwar wraps up

Malaysia's once-imprisoned former deputy leader Anwar Ibrahim on Tuesday wrapped up a tour that drew thousands to rallies meant to test the progress of his return to politics. Anwar, who spent most of the past year abroad, is "enthusiastic and burning with energy», and plans to help the opposition challenge Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's government, said Kamarul Baharin, secretary-general of Anwar's People's Justice Party.

Many Malaysians view Anwar as a fighter for democratic freedoms in Malaysia, whose government has been criticized for curbs on media and political activity.

"Anwar vowed to spend more time in Malaysia starting early 2006," said Kamarul, who accompanied Anwar on the four-day trip to the states of Penang, Kelantan _ which holds a by-election next month _ and Sarawak, where state polls are expected next year.

Once seen as a future prime minister, Anwar was the former deputy of Malaysia's now-retired leader Mahathir Mohamad. Their relationship cracked in 1998 amid disputes over economic policy, and Mahathir fired Anwar.

Anwar was then arrested, tried for corruption and sodomy, and sentenced to a total of 15 years in prison. A successful appeal against the sodomy conviction freed him in 2004. He had already served the corruption sentence.

He addressed a few public rallies earlier this year, but failed to draw huge crowds as he did when he was in power, and just after he was sacked.

On the latest tour, about 10,000 people attended his rally in Kelantan, ruled by Anwar's ally, the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic party, or PAS.

About 1,500 people showed up in Sarawak and 2,000 in Penang. Kelantan will hold a crucial state legislature by-election on Dec. 6 to fill a vacancy left by the death of a PAS lawmaker. The party holds 23 of the 45 seats, while Abdullah's ruling coalition has 21 and hopes to weaken PAS's grip.

During his latest visit to the state, Anwar said the vote offered an opportunity.

"We want this date on Dec. 6 to be the start toward creating a non-corrupt administration," he said in a speech. "We will not play around with this matter. Ultimately, our goal will be to change the country's current leadership."

Next year, Anwar will help the opposition prepare for national elections expected in 2008, said Kamarul.

"He is the best person to lead us," Kamarul said. "We have been encouraged by the response he received on this tour. People filled the Kelantan stadium until there was no room to move, reports the AP. I.L.

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