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Former Malaysian Politician Remains Sharp-Tongued

Anwar Ibrahim was once being groomed to be the next prime minister of Malaysia. But, after a falling out with his mentor, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, he found himself jailed in 1998 on what he says were politically motivated charges of corruption and sexual misconduct. Mr. Anwar was released last year. Six years in prison have not softened his critical voice.

The war of words between former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim and his one-time mentor, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, has flared up again.

In an interview with VOA in Washington, Mr. Anwar again accused Mr. Mahathir of corruption and authoritarian rule during his 22 years as prime minister.

"It is interesting because coming from a person who conspired, who slandered me for seven years now, and accused me of treason, of being an American agent, for corruption, and sodomy, and et cetera, now talks about himself being slandered," he said.

Speaking in government-linked newspapers in Malaysia Thursday, Mr. Mahathir called Mr. Anwar a "backstabber" and accused him of slandering him during a BBC-TV interview. He denied Mr. Anwar's charge that Mr. Mahathir had owned 70 per cent of the shares in a company that controls several TV stations and Malaysia's leading English-language newspaper, the New Straits Times.

Mr. Anwar is not cowed.

"I stand by that statement, which I gave as sworn testimony in court in 1999, where it has not been rebutted by Mahathir until yesterday," he added.

Mr. Anwar was fired by Mr. Mahathir as finance minister and deputy prime minister and arrested on sodomy and corruption charges in 1998. Mr. Anwar has steadfastly maintained he was jailed because he challenged Mr. Mahathir's power and accused him of corruption. After six years in prison, Mr. Anwar was freed last September when his sodomy conviction was overturned.

Currently a senior visiting fellow at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, Mr. Anwar says he is working for human rights and greater engagement between the West and the Islamic world. He says the United States has to be better attuned to issues of corruption and poverty in Muslim nations.

"The administration in Washington needs also to make some adjustments to listen to the concerns of the majority of Muslims, who are against extremism or fanaticism, or against corrupt, tyrannical, or authoritarian rule and their regimes, which are perceived to be backed, assisted, by Washington," he noted.

But, Mr. Anwar adds, the Islamic world needs to address those issues as well.

"The Muslims of course have to deal with their problems, too," he explained. "The most corrupt, abject poverty, denial of the rights of women, are in Muslim countries. And these run contrary to Islamic tenets. They must then set the agenda straight and reform because otherwise you can just see them harboring enmity against America, but then just hiding or deflecting the excesses in their own back yard."

Mr. Anwar says he agrees with the Bush administration on some issues, and on others (such as the Iraq war), disagrees. Mr. Anwar adds that his time in prison heightened his appreciation for the freedom to condone or criticize as he believes.

"For a person who had been under solitary confinement, abused physically, and maligned for six years, freedom is something I hold with greater passion, more than ever," he said. "When I talk about freedom and democracy, you speak with a conviction, with a strong passion. It's not just political rhetoric or an ideological position."

Because his corruption conviction remains intact, Mr. Anwar is barred from active politics in Malaysia until 2008.