Malaysian ‘Mandela’ Anwar Ibrahim walks free from prison after royal pardon

Jailed former opposition leader and current federal opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (R) with his wife Wan Azizah (L) greet the supporters during a rally in Kuala Lumpur on May 16, 2018. Reformist Anwar Ibrahim declared a "new dawn for Malaysia" on May 16 after his release from prison transformed him into a potential prime minister following his alliance's stunning election victory. / AFP / Roslan RAHMAN
Updated 17 May 2018
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Malaysian ‘Mandela’ Anwar Ibrahim walks free from prison after royal pardon

KUALA LUMPUR: Anwar Ibrahim, the long-term imprisoned Malaysian politician, was released from prison on Wednesday after receiving a royal pardon from the Malaysian king.
Dressed in a suit and freshly shaven, Anwar Ibrahim put on his biggest smile as he left the Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital.
Outside of the hospital, crowds of supporters were awaiting the de-facto People’s Justice Party (Keadilan) leader. Ibrahim was greeted with cheers and chants of “Reformasi,” or reformation.
Among the people to cheer him was Azha Nizam, 23, a young Keadilan supporter from the state of Sarawak. He had boarded a flight the night before in the hope of witnessing the historic day. He was accompanied by three of his friends, also from East Malaysia.
“I feel happy, I believe Anwar (Ibrahim) will make the country more progressive,” Nizam said.
His friend, Mohammed Asseri, 25, told Arab News that “during Najib’s era, Malaysia was well-known in the media with stories about 1MDB.”
Asseri was referring to the scandal in Malaysia in which $700 million of 1MDB state funds went missing under the Najib Razak administration.
Anwar Ibrahim has been in the political wilderness since his sacking by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in 1998. He has been in and out of prison for politically motivated sodomy charges for most of the past two decades.
Despite that, Anwar propelled the reformation movement in the early 2000s and the formation in 1999 of the Keadilan party, which is currently headed by his wife, Wan Azizah.
Anwar Ibrahim was greeted by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad upon his arrival at the Royal Palace, where he also met with the Malaysian king. Later at a press conference, the newly freed leader said prison authorities had told him that his criminal record had been erased.
Anwar Ibrahim will lend his full support to the Malaysian prime minister and his government to ensure the reform agenda is carried out effectively.
“I feel happy (about Anwar’s prison release) because he fights for the people and the nation,” the long-time supporter of Keadilan and the reformation movement, Wan Ishak, 57, told Arab News.
He added that the government needs to prioritize the people in its reform agenda: “If the people’s rights are not protected, how will (the people) be able to live well?”
Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s surprise comeback in this year’s national polls has opened the door for the prime ministership of Anwar Ibrahim. The premier has promised to hand over power to Anwar after two years, to which Anwar agreed.
“He (Dr. Mahathir Mohamad) has no choice,” Dr. Oh Ei Sun, senior adviser to the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute, told Arab News. He said that the people who voted for the Alliance of Hope (PH) as the new government would expect Anwar Ibrahim to continue his reform agenda.
“It will be interesting to see how his interactions with Dr. M will be as he re-enters politics,” Dr. Oh said.
Dr. Greg Lopez, Malaysia expert at Western Australia’s Murdoch University, told Arab News that one of Anwar Ibrahim’s biggest challenges would be managing the interests of coalitions parties.
The Alliance of Hope consists of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the People’s Justice Party (Keadilan), the National Trust Party (Amanah) and the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (BERSATU).
In East Malaysia the Sabah Heritage Party (Warisan) and a few of the independent parties have given their allegiance to the new government.
“While Mahathir as prime minister would be the case of the smallest party (in terms of parliamentary seats) leading the coalition, when Anwar Ibrahim becomes PM it would be the case of the largest party leading the coalition,” Dr. Lopez said.
“The ‘Reformasi Agenda’ was central to Malaysians voting for change. It would be a remiss if Anwar Ibrahim failed to deliver on his two decades’ campaign for reforms in Malaysia,” he said.


Six dead in fire at Rohingya camp in Myanmar

Updated 1 min 7 sec ago
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Six dead in fire at Rohingya camp in Myanmar

  • The UN Human Rights Council has accused top Myanmar generals of genocide over the bloody campaign, allegations the country strongly denies.
  • Myanmar has vowed to close nearly 20 of the camps around Sittwe in the coming months.

YANGON, Myanmar: Six Rohingya were killed early Friday after a blaze tore through an overcrowded camp for the persecuted minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, the local fire service said.
Global attention has focused on the 720,000 Rohingya Muslims forced from the state’s north into Bangladesh last year by a brutal military crackdown.
The UN Human Rights Council has accused top Myanmar generals of genocide over the bloody campaign, allegations the country strongly denies.
But less visible are the 129,000 Rohingya confined to squalid camps further south near the capital Sittwe following an earlier bout of violence in 2012.
Hundreds were killed that year in riots between Rakhine Buddhists and the stateless minority, who were corralled into destitute camps away from their former neighbors.
The conflagration in Ohndaw Chay camp, which houses some 4,000 Rohingya and lies 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Sittwe, started just before midnight and lasted several hours, fire department official Han Soe told AFP.
“Six people, one man and five women were killed,” he said, adding that 15 communal longhouses were also destroyed in the blaze thought to have been started in a kitchen accident.
“We were able to bring the fire under control about 1:10 am this morning and had put it out completely by around 3 am,” he said.
A total of 822 people were left without shelter, local media reported.
Conditions in the camps are dire and Rohingya trapped there have virtually no access to health care, education and work, relying on food handouts from aid agencies to survive.
Access into the camps is also tightly controlled, effectively cutting their inhabitants off from the outside world and leaving their plight largely forgotten.
Fires in the camps are common because of “severe” overcrowding, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“Many camp residents have built makeshift extensions to their shelters to create more space for their families. So when a fire breaks out, it is more likely to spread quickly,” said OCHA spokesman Pierre Peron.
Hla Win, a Rohingya man from a nearby camp, told AFP that fire trucks were slow to arrive along the dilapidated roads from Sittwe and the lack of water also hampered efforts to extinguish the blaze.
“We have no ponds near the camps,” he said. “That’s why the fire destroyed so much.”
Myanmar has vowed to close nearly 20 of the camps around Sittwe in the coming months.
Rights groups say the move will achieve little without ending movement restrictions or granting Rohingya a pathway to citizenship.