Malaysia's Anwar stages parliament walkout

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in to parliament Thursday, only to stage a dramatic walkout hours later in a row over controversial DNA sampling legislation.

Anwar won a seat in parliament by a landslide in a by-election this week in his home state of Penang, ending a long political exile after he was sacked as deputy premier in 1998 and jailed for sodomy and corruption.

"I'm glad to be back after a decade," Anwar said, insisting he was on track to topple the government within weeks with the help of defecting lawmakers.

The first order of business was a new Bill which would force suspected criminals to give DNA samples -- legislation Anwar says is targeted at him, as he refused to provide a sample after again being arrested on sodomy charges.

He walked out with his 81 opposition lawmakers after the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition refused to establish a special committee to review the Bill.

"We have walked out because they have refused to respond. Many MPs requested a select committee to be formed but the minister (Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar) refused," Anwar told reporters.

"There is no point staying and participating in the debate," he said.

Syed Hamid condemned the actions of the three-party opposition alliance.

"They walked out contrary to the rules because they don't want to accept defeat. They know that they will be defeated," he told reporters.

"They walked out because they don't want it to appear like a failure for its leader who has said that he will be able to win over Barisan Nasional MPs."

Anwar arrived at parliament with his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who held his seat in northern Penang during his exile, and his daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar, who is also a parliamentarian.

Dressed in a dark blue traditional Malay outfit and black "songkok" hat, he was sworn in during a brief ceremony.

Anwar attacked Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who has faced persistent calls to quit since March elections in which the opposition gained unprecedented ground.

"The prime minister has lost the mandate of the country and the nation," Anwar said, calling on Abdullah, his deputy Najib Razak and "all their cronies" to be removed from power.

Asked if he was on track to carry out his plan to seize power by securing the support of at least 30 government lawmakers by September 16, he said "Yes".

The March elections saw the opposition gain control of five states and a third of parliamentary seats, in the worst ever setback for the coalition which has ruled Malaysia for half a century.

Anwar faces another daunting hurdle as he fights to clear his name of the new sodomy allegations levelled by a 23-year-old former aide, which he says have been concocted by the government to sideline him.

His original sodomy conviction was overturned by the nation's highest court in 2004, allowing him to go free after six years in jail.

Sodomy is a serious offence in Malaysia, a conservative and predominantly Muslim country, and carries a maximum penalty of 20 years' imprisonment. No trial date has been given yet for the new sexual misconduct allegations.

The government dismissed Anwar's claims of being on the verge of seizing power.

"There is no threat from Anwar, he has won in a by-election and he becomes just another MP," Syed Hamid said at parliament.

"From the March 8 elections till now we have done nothing but politicking... but (the defections) haven't happened. They are waiting for it to happen but it hasn't happened -- good luck to them."


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