Riots at arrest of former minister arrested

Malaysian turmoil: Opposition leader's rally ends in clashes just a few miles from where the Queen is staying
Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE QUEEN flew into the middle of a political crisis last night after the arrest of Malaysia's opposition leader and the largest and most violent demonstrations seen in the country for nearly 30 years.

Police carrying assault rifles were guarding the home of the Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, close to the state guest house where the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were staying on the first night of their state visit. A few miles away, armed police arrested the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, after a mass rally at which he demanded the resignation of Dr Mahathir and accused him being a dictator.

A British official in Kuala Lumpur said that the royal visit would be unaffected by the disturbances, which follow a dramatic fortnight in Malaysia. What began as a battle between the country's two most powerful leaders has grown into a crisis that has threatened to overshadow both the Queen's visit and the Commonwealth Games, which she brings to a close tomorrow.

Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, announced last night that he would continue to accompany the Queen rather than fly to New York, as originally scheduled.

It was a day of ironic symbolism, centring on Kuala Lumpur's Freedom Square, where the Union Jack was lowered for the last time in 1957 when Malaysia gained its independence from British rule. On one side, the Queen began her four-day visit with a service in the whitewashed Anglican cathedral. A few hundred yards across the square, a crowd of some 40,000 gathered in front of the National Mosque in the biggest display of unrest since race riots in 1969.

The man they came to see was Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister, who was sacked two weeks ago by Dr Mahathir for alleged sodomy, adultery and treason. On Saturday, in what many in Kuala Lumpur regarded as a show trial, Mr Anwar's adopted brother and a 50-year-old Muslim scholar pleaded guilty to being sodomised by Mr Anwar. But yesterday the depths of his support were obvious.

Police closed off Freedom Square, so the crowds converged on the adjacent National Mosque. "Malaysian citizens have waited long enough," Mr Anwar shouted through a megaphone. "We have given Dr Mahathir enough time. Mahathir should resign!"

"Mahathir resign now!" bellowed the crowd, as they spilt through the streets to the square, blocking an elevated motorway and booing the few police cars that passed by. A group of 5,000 youths marched on Dr Mahathir's official residence but was dispersed with tear gas, water cannon and baton charges by the police

At about the same time, police burst into Mr Anwar's home and arrested him on charges of sexual indecency, with one of his chief aides and his wife whom he had appointed to lead the reform movement in the event of his arrest. His lawyers expected him to appear in court this morning.