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Paris, Tuesday, November 3, 1998

Anwar Goes On Attack At His Trial

Opening Day Criticism Is Aimed at Mahathir And Malaysian Aide


By Mark Landler New York Times Service
KUALA LUMPUR - In a criminal case that has gripped Asia and come to symbolize the political convulsions that flow out of economic distress, the former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim, went on trial here Monday to face charges of corruption.

 While most of the opening session was devoted to somewhat arcane legal maneuvers, Mr. Anwar commandeered the proceedings after court adjourned in the afternoon. Still standing in the dock, a gaunt but galvanized Mr. Anwar delivered a stinging denunciation of the conduct of the inquiry so far.

 Speaking to a rapt press gallery, he criticized the Malaysian attorney general, Mohtar Abdullah, who said Saturday that Mr. Anwar could be tried on additional sex-related charges after this trial ended.

 ''How do you expect me to get a fair trial if the A.G. acts in this manner?'' Mr. Anwar asked. ''He is not professional.''

 Mr. Anwar also had harsh words for his former boss, Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad.

 He said the prime minister had not disclosed the full cost of his new residence, saying it was ''bigger than the palace'' of Malaysia's king. And he accused Mr. Mahathir of ''lying'' about Mr. Anwar's record as deputy prime minister.

 He then theatrically put his hand over his mouth, saying, ''Tomorrow, I think they'll get me.''

 In late September, Mr. Anwar, 51, appeared in court with a black eye, which he said was the result of a police beating.

 Ousted as Malaysia's No.2 official on Sept. 2 and arrested two weeks later, Mr. Anwar was led into the courtroom just after 9 A.M. as hundreds of policemen with automatic weapons, riot sticks and shields ringed the Moorish-style High Court building in central Kuala Lumpur.

 About 200 people milled peacefully behind barriers well away from the court, apparently heeding warnings that the police would crack down on protests.

 As his wife watched nervously, Mr. Anwar heard a prosecutor read off four charges of corrupt practices for allegedly obstructing a police investigation of his sexual activities. Mr. Anwar has also been charged with five counts of sodomy, for which he will be tried later. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

 The trial has ratcheted up the tension in Malaysia, where Mr. Mahathir has come under fierce public criticism for his treatment of Mr. Anwar.

Even in the dock Monday, Mr. Anwar seemed to be campaigning for the support of Malaysians and the international community.

 He denied suggestions that he was opposed to a salary increase for civil servants and he sought to distance himself from a government-orchestrated bailout of a big Malaysian conglomerate, saying that Mr. Mahathir had lied about his role in it.

 Based on the first day, Mr. Anwar could face a rough ride in the trial. The judge, Augustine Paul, rejected a request by Mr. Anwar's lawyers that officials from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch be granted observer status, which would have given them preferential seating in the court.

 And the judge turned away a motion to throw out the case because Mr. Anwar was being prosecuted under a Malaysian ordinance that is about to be repealed.

 If he is convicted on any of the four counts, Mr. Anwar could be imprisoned for up to 20 years.

 With world leaders, including President Bill Clinton, converging on Kuala Lumpur in two weeks for the annual meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, fears about Malaysia's unrest are likely to intensify.

 That Mr. Anwar would publicly denounce Mr. Mahathir on the first day of his trial illustrates the extent to which this case is part of an epic power struggle between two men who have dominated Malaysian politics.

 Mr. Anwar was once Mr. Mahathir's protégé, doted on by the 72-year-old doctor who has been Malaysia's prime minister since 1981. Mr. Anwar, a suave intellectual and author of a book, ''The Asian Renaissance,'' was Mr. Mahathir's anointed successor, with a dual portfolio as deputy prime minister and finance minister.

 But as the Asian crisis devastated Malaysia's economy, the two men clashed over economic policy - with Mr. Mahathir favoring a staunchly nationalist strategy while Mr. Anwar preferred a more global approach. As Mr. Anwar became more bold, he went from being a protégé to a rival and, finally, an enemy.

 On Sept. 1, Mr. Mahathir abruptly imposed sweeping controls on Malaysia's capital markets over the strenuous objections of Mr. Anwar. The prime minister also scuttled his deputy's economic program, which had relied on a strict regime of the type championed by the International Monetary Fund.

 The next day, the prime minister forced out his deputy, saying that he was unfit to be the leader of Malaysia. Rumors that Mr. Anwar had had extramarital affairs with women and men had been simmering for several months and, after Mr. Mahathir dismissed Mr. Anwar, the prime minister said he believed the rumors.

 Mr. Anwar insists that the allegations about sex are a pretext to remove a potential rival. In particular, Mr. Anwar's aides say that the charges of homosexual conduct were designed to destroy him politically, since homosexuality is taboo in Muslim countries like Malaysia.

 Since his arrest, however, Mr. Anwar has only grown in popularity.

 He has rallied tens of thousands of Malaysians, who have marched through the streets and called for the resignation of Mr. Mahathir, who led Malaysia through a period of rapid economic growth before stumbling in the economic crisis.

 ''Anwar is aware that this whole thing is political,'' said K.S. Jomo, a political economist at the University of Malaya here. ''He is politicizing the trial. But it is political, so why pretend that it is not?''