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Malaysia's Anwar freed from prison

Malaysia's former deputy leader Anwar Ibrahim, out of prison after six years, said Thursday that he bears no ill will to the man he has blamed for putting him behind bars, retired prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Freed by a court after six years in prison, Malaysia's former deputy leader Anwar Ibrahim said Thursday that he bears no ill will to the man he has blamed for putting him behind bars, retired prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

"I bear no malice against him. Let him retire," Anwar told reporters in his first remarks after a panel of Malaysia's highest court announced a 2-1 verdict overturning his conviction for sodomy.

But, six years to the day that Mahathir fired him as his heir-apparent, Anwar maintained that the convictions of sodomy and corruption leveled against him after he led massive anti-Mahathir demonstrations in 1998 had been "highly politically motivated."

"I feel vindicated," Anwar told The Associated Press. "This is all about justice. I bear malice against no one."

Anwar said he planned to travel to Germany as soon as he can obtain a passport for surgery for a back injury blamed partly on a beating suffered at the hands of Malaysia's then-police chief six years ago.

Power struggle
Mahathir fired Anwar on Sept. 2, 1998, amid a power struggle linked to policy differences over the Asian economic crisis.

Anwar was arrested on national security grounds 18 days later for leading Malaysia's biggest street protests in decades and calling for Mahathir's ouster.

Subsequently, Anwar was charged and later convicted in trials for corruption and sodomy - a crime in this largely Muslim nation - that were widely seen as unfair.

A series of appeals had gone nowhere, but after Mahathir retired 10 months ago and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took office, there had been increasing speculation that Anwar would eventually be freed.

Anwar thanked Abdullah - a long-time political rival from their hometown of Penang - and appealed to him to strike down national security laws that allow for detention without trial. They are currently being used against scores of suspected Islamic extremists.

"You've got to recognize the fact that his predecessor wouldn't have made this judgment possible," Anwar told reporters. "So in that regard, I have to give credit to the prime minister for not interfering with the judiciary."

Anwar indicated that he would keep campaigning for political reform, though the corruption conviction against him - upheld in a separate series of appeals - means he cannot seek office for five years.

'Committed to reform'
"I'm committed to the struggle," Anwar told reporters. "There's no question of any withdrawal. I'm not waiting five years. I'm starting right away."

Anwar thanked his spouse, Azizah Ismail, as a "great colleague, wife and friend" for leading the struggle to have him freed, including heading reform party, the National Justice Party, founded after his arrest.

"I must say that I'm committed to reform and the struggle with the opposition parties who are committed to reform," Anwar said.

The Justice Party scored well in elections in 1999 during an alliance with other opposition groups, including an Islamic fundamentalist party, in what amounted to a public backlash against Mahathir's government.

However, with Mahathir retired and Abdullah in charge, the governing parties obliterated the opposition at elections last March.