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Najib delays trip admist political uncertainty

From the International Herald Tribune

Friday, September 19, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysia's deputy leader abruptly scrapped a trip to the Middle East on Friday amid deepening political uncertainty sparked by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's attempt to seize power.

Also Friday, police released an opposition lawmaker who was detained last week along with two other people under a law allowing indefinite detention. The arrests had intensified the climate of political restlessness in the country.

An aide to Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak denied he was postponing his overseas tour because of politics, saying Najib wants to remain in Malaysia over the next week to tackle his new job as finance minister.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi relinquished his finance ministry portfolio to Najib on Wednesday as part of a protracted power hand-over. Abdullah has promised to step down before 2010 amid escalating demands from his ruling party for his swift retirement.

Najib had been slated to leave Malaysia on Friday to visit Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and New York, but he canceled the Middle East leg and will only head for New York on Sept. 24 for the U.N. General Assembly meeting, said an aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make public statements.

"There are no political ramifications," the aide said. "He just felt that because of the current (global) economic climate, he should hit the ground running since he has just been appointed as the finance minister."

Najib's decision came a day after the ruling party's top officials held a meeting in which Abdullah was apparently urged to speed up his exit.

International Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the officials gave "no specific date" for Abdullah to hand over power, but presented "our views and that of the grass roots who want it to be done as soon as possible."

Abdullah's support has slumped since he led the National Front governing coalition to its worst electoral results ever in March national polls, when Anwar's opposition alliance captured one-third of Parliament and took control of five of Malaysia's 13 states.

Anwar's People's Alliance now has 82 seats in the 222-member Parliament, compared to the National Front's 138. Anwar claims he has pledges of loyalty from enough government lawmakers to topple the coalition that has led Malaysia since 1957.

Anwar has called for an emergency Parliament session on Tuesday to hold a vote of no confidence in the government. Abdullah has rejected the call saying Anwar can wait until Oct. 13 when Parliament ends its recess.

Meanwhile, police released Teresa Kok, a representative of the Democratic Action Party, after one week in detention without charges, said lawyer Sankara Nair.

Kok was arrested Sept. 12 under the Internal Security Act, which provides for indefinite detention without trial, after she was accused by a newspaper of complaining about the noise of morning prayers from a mosque. She has denied making such complaints.

Police arrested Kok and two journalists on the same day, but one of the journalists was later released. Malaysia's law minister resigned this week after protesting the arrests.