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Malaysia's Politicians Drained By Constant Wrangling, Politicking

6 Mar

KUALA LUMPUR: It has been a year since Malaysia’s landmark election in March 2008. Since then, constant wrangling has left the country’s politicians physically drained and mentally distracted.

The “political tsunami” had swept the opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance into power in five key states and had denied the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition a crucial two-thirds majority in Parliament.

But the initial euphoria and optimism have now been replaced by a sense of anxiety and frustration.

Anwar Ibrahim, opposition parliamentary leader, said: “There is a danger of complacency or lethargy creeping in. There’s a need to rejuvenate.”

Mr Anwar has been put on the defensive by a series of events that has gripped the fledging alliance – from Perak, where defections by Pakatan assemblymen caused the northern state to fall, to a nude picture scandal involving Selangor executive councillor, Elizabeth Wong, which saw her resign under mounting pressure last month.

The 62-year-old, who is still fighting off allegations of sodomy, issued a stern warning to all his party members. “You wish to support the agenda? You remain. You wish to enrich yourself? You join UMNO,” said Mr Anwar.

The ruling UMNO party blames him for the turmoil as he had issued threats to topple the federal government by September 16 last year.

Shahrir Samad, domestic and consumer affairs minister, UMNO supreme council member, said: “We are accused of politicking too much, whereas we are not the ones who have indulged in politicking.”

While UMNO has blamed the constant politicking for its slow pace of reform, opposition-controlled states such as Penang, led by Chinese-based DAP, just want to be left alone.

Jeffrey Ooi, opposition strategist, DAP, said: “We want to focus on our job. We want to have the least amount of distractions because of crossovers and money politics. We intend to stay on.”

With three by-elections due on April 7, the political temperature looks set to rise further, and it will not be an easy ride for Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, who will become Malaysia’s sixth prime minister at the end of this month.

While both sides blaming each other for causing all the distractions, the people lament the waste of time, energy and taxpayers’ money, which they said could have been better focused to jointly fix the economy amid an onslaught of the global financial crisis.

– CNA/so

Channel News Asia

Police Rules Out Possibility Of Plot In Malaysian Politician's Nude Photos Scandal

20 Feb

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysian Police have ruled out the possibility of a plot against state assemblywoman, Elizabeth Wong.

The Selangor state executive councillor recently quit her post after nude photographs of her were circulated.

Police said the case was not a set-up to embarrass and ruin the life of Ms Wong.

Speaking at a news conference in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, the capital’s police chief urged the media not to speculate and sensationalise the whole episode.

The opposition claims the case is politically motivated, with the goal of discrediting Ms Wong and to undermine the opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance.

Police have interrogated four journalists from local dailies, The Sun and Malay Mail, which first exposed the story.

Ms Wong’s ex-boyfriend Hilmi Malek – the only suspect of the case – is believed to be in Indonesia.

Ms Wong, 37, who is currently overseas, has since offered to resign as state exco as well as assemblywoman.

Kuala Lumpur Police Chief Mohd Sabtu Osman said: “The police have also rejected allegations that someone has set up the recording of the photos. On the contrary, we believe that the photos were taken by someone who knew the complainant.

“What’s important is for us to ascertain who recorded the photos, who circulated them and what’s the motive behind. We are still investigating.”

– CNA/yt

Channel News Asia

Malaysian Politician Offers To Quit Over Nude Photos

17 Feb

KUALA LUMPUR: A prominent Malaysian opposition politician tearfully offered her resignation Tuesday after photos of her in the nude were circulated to the media.

Elizabeth Wong, one of Malaysia’s top human rights activists, blamed government “gutter politics” for the release of the images, which reportedly show her sleeping in her bedroom.

Newspaper reports have speculated that the images may have been taken by a former boyfriend.

“I wish to state that I am not ashamed of my sexuality as a woman and a single person. I have broken no laws. I stand by the fundamental principle in a democracy that everyone has a right to privacy,” she told a press conference.

The photographs, which are circulating via mobile phones but have not yet been published in the media, have caused a political storm in Malaysia, which is a conservative and predominantly Muslim country.

Wong, a bespectacled 37-year-old who is not married, is a well-known member of the multiracial Keadilan party led by Anwar Ibrahim, who helms the three-member Pakatan Rakyat opposition alliance.

She has won support from both sides of the political divide, including from women in the Barisan Nasional coalition and the Pakatan Rakyat.

But there have also been calls for her to quit her seat in the Selangor state assembly, which the opposition won for the first time in general elections a year ago.

“She is a single person. How can she allow a man into her room when they are not married? What’s the status of the relationship,” said Mohamad Khir Toyo, the former Barisan Nasional chief minister of Selangor.

Keadilan officials said that Anwar would make an announcement later Tuesday on whether Wong’s resignation would be accepted, triggering a by-election which would not affect the balance of power in Selangor.

They said on condition of anonymity that they feared other more compromising pictures may emerge unless Wong stood down.

“I believe that these attacks will continue with greater intensity,” Wong told the press conference, adding that Barisan Nasional would “continue to manipulate the situation.”

“Accordingly I have decided to make a stand in the interests of the party and its struggle for the people,” she said, as a group of supporters holding flowers and banners yelled their support.

– AFP/yb

Channel News Asia

No Charges Against Holland Village Nude Couple Yet

16 Feb

SINGAPORE: More than three weeks after a Caucasian man and a Singaporean woman were arrested for strolling around Holland Village totally nude, no charges had been filed against them yet.

Police said investigations are still ongoing.

The naked pair stunned drinkers and diners when they strolled hand-in-hand up and down Lorong Mambong at 11pm on January 24.

They were nabbed one hour later near North Buona Vista Road, but were later released on bail.

The incident sparked off a flurry of postings online and even became inspiration for a new Ikea advertisement.

Under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, anyone who appears nude in a public place can be fined up to S$2,000 or jailed up to three months, or both.

– CNA/yt

Channel News Asia

Two Stand Trial In Italy For Sex-Murder Of British Student

17 Jan

PERUGIA, Italy : American student Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend were too in love to be tempted by such a sordid affair as the sex-murder of a British student, the defence argued as their trial opened on Friday.

Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, an Italian engineering student, were not a “bored couple” looking for excitement, star lawyer Giulia Buongiorno said, noting that they had fallen in love just two weeks before the gruesome killing of Meredith Kercher in November 2007.

They were “two lovebirds in the first weeks of their romance,” said Buongiorno, who has defended several prominent Italian politicians.

Knox, from Seattle, Washington, and Sollecito have both denied murdering 22-year-old Kercher, an exchange student from Leeds University, England, who shared a house with Knox in the central university town of Perugia.

Both women had arrived only two months earlier in the normally quiet Umbrian town.

Prosecutors allege that Kercher was killed after refusing to take part in a sex game following an afternoon Knox allegedly spent smoking cannabis with Sollecito.

A third defendant, 20-year-old Ivorian Rudy Guede, has already been convicted and sentenced to 30 years behind bars for his role in the murder.

The defendants were detained in the days after Kercher was found dead semi-nude in her bedroom with multiple stab wounds to her throat on November 2, 2007.

The defence team also said it would demonstrate that Sollecito had never set eyes on Guede, who was convicted in October in a “fast-track” trial, until his indictment.

Another lawyer for Sollecito, Luca Maroi, asserted that Guede was the sole killer.

“Justice has already been served for this inexplicable, tragic death with the sentencing to 30 years in prison of the one true culprit,” Maori said.

The implication of the bespectacled Sollecito in the case was the “result of a tragic judicial error that has seen him in jail for 15 months,” he said, describing his client as a “normal young man”.

Earlier, Judge Paolo Micheli barred cameras from the trial but said he would consider ordering all journalists out only during sensitive testimony on Kercher’s slaying.

Kercher’s family, who are seeking 30 million euros (40 million dollars) from the alleged killers, called for a closed trial. Their lawyer Francesco Maresca stressed their concern for “protecting the memory and dignity of the departed daughter”.

Lawyers for Knox, 21, and Sollecito argued that an open trial was the best way for them to establish their innocence.

Buongiorno argued that if journalists were barred “information would get out anyway, but twisted, and that’s our fear”.

There would be no danger of harming the victim’s dignity, said the prominent lawyer, “because in this trial we will talk about DNA and other technical questions”.

The case against Knox and Sollecito rests largely on DNA evidence collected at the scene and on a knife found in the Italian’s apartment.

Knox and Sollecito, casually dressed and appearing calm, were brought into the courtroom without handcuffs and sat at separate tables with their lawyers on the first day of the trial.

The defence has questioned the handling of the investigation and fear their clients will not receive a fair trial because of the intense media glare on the case. Many headlines have featured the “Foxy Knoxy” name Knox gave herself on the MySpace social networking website.

“It’s a circus,” said Raffaela Bianconi, a waitress at a snack bar across the street from the courthouse. “It’s like a game or a TV soap opera. We almost forget that a girl died,” Bianconi told AFP.

The next hearing will be held on February 6.

– AFP /ls

Channel News Asia

Trial Set To Open For Murder Of British Student In Italy

16 Jan

PERUGIA, Italy: An American student and her former boyfriend were to go on trial on Friday for their alleged role in the presumed sex-murder of her British housemate in the Italian university town of Perugia.

Amanda Knox, from Seattle, Washington, has been held awaiting trial since a few days after exchange student Meredith Kercher, aged 22, was found dead semi-nude in her bedroom with stab wounds to her throat on November 2, 2007.

Knox’s then boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito is also implicated in an alleged scenario in which Kercher refused to take part in a sex game following an afternoon Knox allegedly spent smoking hash with Sollecito.

The case against Knox and Sollecito rests largely on DNA evidence collected at the scene and on a knife found in the Italian’s apartment.

The defence have questioned the handling of the investigation and fear their clients will not receive a fair trial because of the intense media glare on the case.

A third defendant, 20-year-old Ivorian Rudy Guede, has already been convicted and sentenced to 30 years behind bars for his role in the murder. While claiming innocence, he opted for a “fast-track” trial in exchange for clemency.

Guede, who fled the scene – and Italy – was arrested several days after the murder in Germany, and extradited.

Kercher, a student from Leeds University in northern England, was studying in Perugia as part of the Europe-wide Erasmus exchange programme.

Her murder, which occurred on the night of All Saints Day, just after many students in Perugia celebrated Halloween, sparked lurid headlines in Britain and the United States.

Journalists quickly spotted 21-year-old Knox’s MySpace page in which she called herself “Foxy Knoxy,” as well as a YouTube appearance by Guede in which he said he was a vampire who would “suck your blood”.

Knox and Kercher shared a house with two Italian women who were away for the holiday weekend at the time of the murder.

Prosecutors said Knox stabbed Kercher to death while Sollecito and Guede restrained her and the latter tried to rape her after she refused to take part in a drugs-inspired sex game linked to Halloween.

– AFP/so

Channel News Asia

Boy George Jailed For 15 Months For Imprisoning Escort

16 Jan

LONDON – British pop star Boy George was sentenced to 15 months in jail on Friday for imprisoning a Norwegian male escort after a nude photoshoot.

The 47-year-old former Culture Club frontman was found guilty last month of handcuffing 29-year-old Audun Carlsen and beating him with a metal chain, when he tried to escape the musician’s London apartment.

The singer and disc jockey, who stood trial under his real name George O’Dowd, admitted to police to handcuffing Carlsen to his bed on April 28, 2007, as he investigated the Norwegian’s alleged tampering with his computer.

He denied, however, that he assaulted Carlsen, or hit him with a metal chain, suggesting to officers that the bruises suffered by the escort could have been there due to the fact that he was HIV positive.

“Whilst I accept that Mr Carlsen’s physical injuries were not serious or permanent, in my view there can be no doubt that your premeditated callous and humiliating handcuffing and detention of Mr Carlsen shocked, degraded and traumatised him,” Judge David Radford said as he sentenced O’Dowd.

“He was deprived of his liberty and human dignity without warning or proper explanation to him of its purpose, length or purported justification.”

O’Dowd and Carlsen met on the gay website Gaydar, and Carlsen first went to O’Dowd’s apartment in January 2007, when they posed naked for the photoshoot and took cocaine.

Carlsen said the singer performed a sex act on him for “five seconds before I said no,” and the pair later left on good terms, with O’Dowd paying Carlsen 300 pounds (330 euros, 400 dollars), of the 400 pounds that they had agreed.

The Norwegian claimed during the trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court in London that O’Dowd proceeded to then send him a string of emails accusing him of hacking into his computer.

Despite that, Carlsen returned to O’Dowd’s flat in April 2007 and said that when he arrived, he was handcuffed to a wall hook, called a “whore,” punched repeatedly and beat with a metal chain when he tried to flee.

Explaining why the attack happened, Carlsen told the court: “I think he couldn’t handle the refusal — me not having sex with him.”

Using the handcuffs to unscrew the wall hook, Carlsen then escaped the apartment onto the street wearing just his underwear, a T-shirt and running shoes.

Defence lawyers arguing on behalf of O’Dowd, who did not give evidence to the court, said that the dispute was regarding claims that Carlsen had stolen photographs from O’Dowd’s computer.

They argued that Carlsen’s suggestion that the attack occurred because of his refusal to have sex with the artist was “entire fantasy or a lie”.

O’Dowd has had brushes with the law in the past — in August 2006, he carried out a week of court-ordered community service in New York City for filing a false police report over a non-existent burglary.

As well as the community service, he agreed to undergo drug rehabilitation.

Boy George briefly embarked on a solo singing career after leaving Culture Club in 1987, before beginning a successful career as a DJ and launching fashion line B-Rude.

– AFP /ls

Channel News Asia