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Malaysia's Anwar returns to court for closely watched trial next article click here

Anwar waves to supporters on his way to court on September 30   

'Difficult' day one

November 3, 1998
Web posted at: 3:11 a.m. EST (0811 GMT) 

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNN) -- More than 100 paramilitary troopers and riot police surrounded a Malaysian court on Tuesday as sacked Finance Minister Anwar Ibrahim arrived for the second day of his criminal trial on corruption and illicit sex charges.

Anwar arrived at the High Court in Independence Square, flanked by escort vehicles as riot police stood across the street.

Troopers with automatic rifles and riot police with helmets, shields and batons kept watch around the courthouse.

Hundreds of international reporters and human rights activists have flocked to the Malaysian capital to observe the trial.
Anwar and Mahathir 
Anwar (left) and Mahathir in June, 1998   

Anwar's case generated international concern after he appeared with a black eye and bruises during his arraignment. He accused police of beating him on the night of his arrest, September 20, hours before he led 30,000 anti-government protesters through the streets of the capital and Independence Square.

Anwar faces five counts of corruption and five counts of sodomy. He denies the charges and says they were cooked up to undermine his challenge to the 17-year leadership of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Mahathir said he sacked his handpicked successor because he was morally unfit to lead the Southeast Asian nation.

Judge: 'This is a big insult to the court'

On the first day of the trial on Monday, the presiding judge, Augustine Paul, denied official observer status to international human rights groups and the local Bar Council and said representatives could attend the trial as members of the public.

The groups included Amnesty International, Justice International, Law Asia, Human Rights Watch and Jakarta Legal Aid Bureau. They have all expressed concern over Anwar's arrest, treatment in detention and legal prospects.
A supporter holds a picture of Anwar 
A supporter holds a picture of Anwar as he shouts anti-government slogans during a weekend protest   

The judge also rejected a defense motion to have the four corruption counts under examination during the first phase of the trial dismissed on technical grounds.

"This is a big insult to the court," Augustine said of the request. "It gives the impression that the court may not be dispensing justice."

The United States on Monday criticized arrangements for access to Anwar's trial.

Bailiffs prevented a U.S. Embassy representative from attending, although he stood second in line waiting outside the courthouse.

"We certainly see no reason why diplomats and journalists who have complied with the court-stated procedures for entering the courtroom should be arbitrarily prevented from doing so," State Department spokesman James Rubin said in Washington.

The Malaysian Bar Council said it regretted that its representatives had been denied access to the first day of the trial but said the High Court Registry had ensured that two council representatives would be admitted on Tuesday.

Rough start for Anwar and his lawyers

The judge's moves prompted Anwar and his lawyers to say the trial had got off to a difficult start.

"It's tough going in the first part of the trial, but what can we do?" Anwar said Monday during a break in the trial, held in a packed courtroom.

"While we made lots of objections, we have lost every single one," said Sulaiman Abdullah, one of Anwar's eight lawyers. "But no doubt we'll be raising other things as well."

Each of the corruption counts carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail and a 20,000 ringgit ($5,000) fine. Each sodomy charge is punishable by up to 20 years' jail and whipping.

The attorney general said over the weekend the trial would last at least until next June, and that Anwar would then be indicted on new sex charges.

Anwar criticized the attorney general's remarks on Monday, saying they jeopardized his prospects for a fair trial.

Malaysia does not have a jury system and the allegations will be heard by the single judge, Augustine.

The trial's outcome can be appealed to the Court of Appeal.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this re