Malaysia’s Mahathir says would back old foe Anwar as prime minister

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad smiles during an interview with Reuters in Putrajaya, Malaysia, in this March 30, 2017 file photo. (Reuters)
Updated 06 July 2017

Malaysia’s Mahathir says would back old foe Anwar as prime minister

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is seeking the release of jailed opposition leader, and once bitter foe, Anwar Ibrahim, and would have no objection to him being premier, the Guardian reported on Thursday.
In an interview with the Guardian in London, Mahathir said Anwar should be released from jail, where he is serving a five-year sentence for sodomy, and allowed to contest elections as he was a victim of a political vendetta.
Anwar is seen as the greatest threat to Prime Minister Najib Razak and his coalition, after leading a three-party opposition alliance to stunning electoral gains in 2013.
“In the case of Anwar we can make a case that he was unfairly treated. The decision of the court was obviously influenced by the government and I think the incoming government would be able to persuade the king to give a full pardon for Anwar,” Mahathir told the Guardian.
“In which case he would be able to participate in politics and become PM. I can have no objection to that.”
Malaysia’s political landscape has been shaped for nearly two decades by a bitter feud between Anwar and Mahathir.
Anwar was once a protégé of the veteran prime minister, Mahathir, and the rising star of Malaysian politics, but they fell out in the late 1990s.
Soon afterwards, Anwar was jailed for the first time on charges of sodomy and graft, after being sacked as the deputy prime minister. He denied the charges, dismissing them as politically motivated.
He was convicted and jailed in 2013, when Najib was prime minister, for another sodomy charge, which he and his supporters described as a politically motivated attempt to end his career.
But after their years of animosity, opposition to Prime Minister Najib is drawing Anwar and Mahathir back together.
Last year, Anwar endorsed a political compact spearheaded by Mahathir to fight Najib.
Najib has been embroiled in a corruption scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad. He has denied any wrongdoing, even as the fund became the subject of money laundering investigations in the US and at least five other countries.
The sodomy conviction disqualifies Anwar from political office and from contesting the next election that must be held by mid-2018. A royal pardon, however, would let him contest.
Government sources have told Reuters that Najib had been preparing to call polls in September, but the timing has since become less clear in the wake of the scandals.
Last month, Anwar said he would not be a candidate for prime minister in the upcoming elections.
Mahathir, who turns 92 next week, has said he would consider taking up the premier position again, but only if there was no acceptable candidate after an opposition election victory.


Prayers at fire-bombed mosques as India’s riot toll grows

Updated 28 February 2020

Prayers at fire-bombed mosques as India’s riot toll grows

NEW DELHI: Muslims in a northeastern neighborhood of India’s capital returned for weekly prayers at fire-bombed mosques on Friday, two days after a 72-hour clash between Hindus and Muslims that left at least 40 dead and hundreds injured.
Five days after they started, it was still unclear exactly what sparked the riots — the worst communal violence in New Delhi in decades — and the death toll at hospitals was continuing to rise.
“If they burn our mosques, we will rebuild them again and pray. It’s our religious right and nobody can stop us from practicing our religion,” said Mohammad Sulaiman, who was among about 180 men who prayed on the rooftop of a mosque that was set on fire in the unrest.
Tensions between Hindu hard-liners and Muslims protesting Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s Hindu-first policies had been building for months when the violence exploded Sunday night, on the eve of US President Donald Trump’s first state visit to India.
Kapil Mishra, a local leader of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party who lost his Delhi state assembly seat in recent elections, demanded at a rally Sunday that police shut down a Muslim-led protest in the city or else he and his followers would do it themselves.
And it appears they did.
Hindus and Muslims attacked each other with guns and swords, metal rods and axes, leaving the streets where the rioting occurred resembling a war zone.
There was a heavy police presence in the neighborhood on Friday. On one riot-torn street, Hindus shouted “Jai Shri Ram,” or Long Live Ram, the Hindu god, as Muslims attempted to reach a mosque damaged in the riots.
Several Muslim residents told The Associated Press that most Muslim families had locked up their homes and fled the area.
The passage of a citizenship law in December that fast-tracks naturalization for some religious minorities from neighboring countries but not Muslims earlier spurred massive protests across India that left 23 dead.
The protest violence is the latest in a long line of periodic communal clashes that date to the British partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, when the country was split into secular, Hindu-majority India and the Islamic state of Pakistan.
The protection of India’s religious, cultural and linguistic diversity is enshrined in its constitution. But communal tensions have occasionally flared into deadly riots, beginning with partition itself, when Hindus living in what is now Pakistan migrated to India, and Muslims in modern India to Pakistan.
Clashes claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and people of other religions.
This week’s death toll marked the worst religiously motivated violence in New Delhi since 1984, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed by her Sikh bodyguards, triggering a wave of riots that resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 Sikhs in the capital and more than 8,000 nationwide.
In 1992, tens of thousands of Hindu extremists razed a 16th-century mosque in northern India, claiming that it stood on Ram’s birthplace. Nearly 2,000 people were killed across the country in the riots that followed.
The religious polarization that followed saw Modi’s right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party emerge as the single largest party in India’s Parliament.
In 2002, the western Indian state of Gujarat erupted in violence when a train filled with Hindu pilgrims was attacked by a Muslim mob. A fire erupted — it remains unclear whether it was arson — and 60 Hindus burned to death. In retaliation, more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the state.
Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister at the time. He was accused of tacit support for the rampage against Muslims, but a court ultimately cleared him of wrongdoing.
Violent large-scale clashes between Hindus and Muslims last took place in New Delhi in 2014, months after Modi’s party came to power, in a largely poor neighborhood close to where this week’s rioting occurred. That violence left three dozen people injured.
Ashutosh Varshney, a professor at Brown University who wrote a book about Indian riots, said the worst has been averted — at least for now.
“If it had reached the scale of Delhi 1984 or Gujarat 2002, it would have doomed Indian politics for many years to come and brought India closer to the kind of Hindu-Muslim polarization that the current ruling party would ideally want, but is finding it hard to manufacture,” Varshney said.
BJP leaders, who have sought to demonize Muslim protesters as a threat to India, may see some gain from the violence, Varshney said.
But it comes at a cost, the international perception that India under Modi has become ungovernable, he said.
Government spokesman Raveesh Kumar denied the Modi government had inflamed religious tensions in India and failed to protect minority Muslims.
“These are factually inaccurate and misleading, and appear to be aimed at politicizing the issue,” he said. “Our law enforcement agencies are working on the ground to prevent violence and ensure restoration of confidence and normalcy.”
He added that Modi had “publicly appealed for peace and brotherhood.”
“We would urge that irresponsible comments are not made at this sensitive time,” he said.