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Malaysia's Ruling Party Members Urged to Shun Anwar Ibrahim - 2004-09-22

Leaders of Malaysia's ruling party have closed the door to former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's possible comeback to his former political base.

In an oblique attack against Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of Malaysia's ruling party's youth wing urged members not to allow a "traitor" to destroy the party for a second time.

The warning came during a preliminary session of the annual congress of the United Malays National Organization in Kuala Lumpur. Party members were urged to shun the former deputy prime minister, although he was not mentioned by name, because he had founded an opposition party and challenged UMNO rule.

The deputy head of the youth wing, Khairy Jamaluddin, stressed UMNO's position on Anwar Ibrahim.

"What else is there to say? The Supreme Council already agreed that he should not come back in," he said. "So I think most of the members are happy with that position. So I don't think there is any need to discuss him anymore."

Anwar Ibrahim's recent release from prison has raised questions over his political future. At the height of his career, the charismatic leader enjoyed a strong following in UMNO, including among its youth leaders. He had been expected to succeed then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

His fall from power in 1998, after a dispute with then Mr. Mahathir over how to handle the economy, divided the ruling party and the nation. After he was fired from his post, Anwar Ibrahim was arrested and charged with sodomy and corruption.

Before his arrest, he formed the Keadilan, or Justice, party, which has since been led by his wife, Wan Azizah.

Anwar Ibrahim spent six years in jail until a court overturned his sodomy conviction on September 2nd. But his corruption conviction stands - preventing him from running for elected office until 2008.

He has said he will not seek to return to UMNO, and would rather work with the opposition.

UMNO has dominated Malaysian politics since 1957. This week's meeting will be the first under Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, who took office a year ago. UMNO members will elect new vice presidents during their three-day meeting.

Anwar Ibrahim is temporarily in Germany, recovering from surgery on an old back injury he says was worsened during his years in prison.