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June 27, 2017

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Malaysian opposition leader rejects charges in sodomy trial

KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim rejected sodomy charges against him as a government fabrication to ruin him politically as he addressed the court for the first time Monday in his trial.

Anwar made the claim while reading out an opening statement from the dock as the defense began presenting its case in the often-delayed trial, five months after the prosecution rested its case.

"The allegation is a blatant and vicious lie and will be proven so. This is a vile and desperate attempt at character assassination," Anwar told a Kuala Lumpur courtroom packed with journalists and foreign diplomats.

"This entire process is nothing but a conspiracy by Prime Minister Najib Razak to send me into political oblivion by attempting once again to put me behind bars," he added later.

Anwar, 64, is charged with sodomizing young male aide Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan in June 2008 and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Sodomy is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

The former deputy prime minister and one-time Malaysian leader-in-waiting has blasted the trial as a political setup aimed at thwarting a political opposition that has found new strength.

His lawyers said Monday that they had formally requested that the court subpoena Najib in the trial, but told AFP that even if a summons is issued, the prime minister could apply to have it set aside.

Dressed in a dark suit, Anwar spent an hour reading out his statement, which said the prosecution's case was riven with inconsistencies and labeled the proceedings a political "show trial."

"I categorically deny the charges against me. I want to state in no uncertain terms that I never had sexual relations with the complainant," he said.

"They can do all they want to sully my reputation and threaten me with ... jail. They won't be able to cow me. The truth will prevail."

The hearing adjourned at midday and was the trial was to resume on Tuesday with the defense expected to begin calling witnesses.

Anwar's legal battles have dominated Malaysian politics for years.

Malaysia was once one of Asia's most politically stable countries under former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who had groomed Anwar to take the helm of the economically vibrant, multicultural nation.

But a bitter split over how to respond to the 1997 Asian currency crisis led to Anwar's arrest the following year — and later conviction — on separate sodomy and corruption charges widely seen as politically motivated.

He was freed in 2004 after that sodomy conviction was overturned and sparked a resurgence by the political opposition, which achieved historic gains against the ruling Barisan Nasional in 2008 general elections.

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