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Troops surround Anwar's family

SUPPORTERS OF the imprisoned Malaysian opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, were struggling to keep his movement for reform alive yesterday, as soldiers and riot police surrounded his home and threatened to arrest his wife.

A day after invoking a draconian security law to detain Mr Anwar and 11 leading supporters, police accused his wife, Azizah Ismail, of inciting hostility against them by suggesting that her husband would be forcibly injected with the HIV virus in an effort to prove that he is a promiscuous bisexual.

"We have news that maybe Anwar's life is in danger," she was reported to have told the American television channel CNBC. "He may be given some injection of the HIV virus to prove whatever allegations ... that is why I am afraid for my husband's life." Last night a police helicopter hovered above the house in suburban Kuala Lumpur and police and troops cleared away stands selling posters of Mr Anwar and tapes of his speeches.

There was no repeat of the mass demonstrations of the previous day and of Sunday when tens of thousands of Malaysians rallied in the centre of the city calling for the resignation of Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister.

Dr Mahathir sacked Mr Anwar as deputy leader and finance minister after police affidavits saying he engaged in promiscuous sex with men and women. But three weeks later, no charges have been brought against him. Instead he and the 11 supporters are being held under the Internal Security Act (ISA) which allows indefinite detention without trial.

"I will not discount the possibility that more people will be picked up under the ISA as our investigations progress," Yaacob Amin of the Malaysian CID told The Star newspaper. At least 40 other demonstrators were dragged off the streets on Monday by plain-clothes police, and the risk of arrest, as well as the heavy police presence, appeared to have broken the momentum of the protest movement. Opponents of Dr Mahathir said they believed the movement would continue but that they feared a broader crackdown, possibly after the departure of the Queen, whose official visit ends today.

"There is an overall climate of fear," said Param Cumaraswamy, a lawyer and former president of the Malaysian Bar Association. "For decades we were sacrificing a great deal of social and political rights just to promote growth. We don't have an independent judiciary, we don't have a free place, police powers have increased, there's no place for independent, critical non-governmental organisations. Suddenly people wake up and find that the economy has gone down and that we are not allowed to speak up."

Professor Chandra Muzaffar of the University of Malaya, a civil rights campaigner who spent two months in jail under the ISA during Dr Mahathir's last crackdown 11 years ago, said: "It's a movement which takes its strength from two parts of society - the expanding middle class and the Islamic movement, and I don't think it's ging to evaporate."

Dr Mahathir insisted the situation was stable. "There are a few thousand people following him [Anwar] but the majority of people are quite happy," he said.