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Friday, Sept 11
Political outcast wants back in the mainstream
By BETH DUFF-BROWN

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - Malaysia's newly acclaimed political outcast insists he has a future within the ruling party, that ''the people'' would determine his fate.

Anwar Ibrahim, unceremoniously dumped as deputy and finance minister and expelled from the United Malays National Organization on sexual misconduct charges last week, told The Associated Press it was time to risk arrest and take his side of the story to the people.

He will fight his way back into the mainstream.

''My focus now is both to appeal to UMNO members to respect my UMNO position in the spirit of the constitution, and at the same time appeal directly to the masses,'' said Anwar, sitting barefoot and cross-legged on the prayer carpet in his living room Thursday.

He made good on that challenge, drawing 7,000 supporters for prayers at a mosque in Kampong Baru, a Muslim enclave on the outskirts of the city which traditionally has been a center for religious and reformist debate.

Anwar said he intends to visit northern Malaysia on Saturday, the same villages where he led demonstrations on behalf of poor farmers in his radical student days. One of those protests led to 22 months of detention under the dreaded Internal Security Act.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad wooed Anwar away from his conservative Islamic party and into the more moderate UMNO in 1982. Mahathir pushed him up the political ranks with various Cabinet posts, until naming him deputy PM in 1993 and grooming him to take his place.

Today, the Southeast Asian country's two most powerful men have become bitter enemies.

Mahathir says he conducted his own investigation and determined that Anwar was immoral and unfit to lead. He believes Anwar would face criminal charges once the police concludes its investigation into sexual improprieties.

Anwar believes the Malaysian people know the truth.

''I've been wrongfully expelled without charges against me,'' Anwar said. ''I still thoroughly trust the wisdom and the resilience of the people.''

Thousands of supporters flock to his two-story stucco house in a well-heeled neighborhood each night to listen to his poetic denials of misdeeds. They howl over his potshots at the government and roar at his triple chants of ''reformasi,'' the Islamic opposition battle cry of neighboring Indonesia.

Some sneak in from the nearby government ministries on their lunch breaks just to touch his hand. On Thursday, several huge Indian men were reduced to tears when Anwar embraced them and thanked them for their support.

His wife, Dr. Azizah Ismail, stares up at him adoringly during his hourlong political sermons. His six children, aged 6 to 18, are positioned behind him and follow his every word. As midnight approached Wednesday, 13-year-old Ihsan rubbed his fathers shoulders after breaks in his speech, like a coach in the corner of a boxing ring.

Anwar, 51, believes he was banished because he fought against corruption and is devoted to Islam.

''They are terrified of me because of my religious and nationalistic principles,'' Anwar said after prayers Friday.

When asked to be more specific about his reform platform, Anwar adopts an air of boredom, as if he's grown weary of the subject. He notes his platform is outlined in his 1996 book, ''The Asian Renaissance.''

He says he stands for democracy and freedom of the press, continued growth and prosperity, and transparency within the government.

When asked about Mahathir, whether he or his family is corrupt, Anwar becomes vague. Even after his sacking last week, he still referred to Mahathir, 72, as a ''father'' who had been pushed to a wall.

''That's the major issue, he feels vulnerable to a challenge,'' he said.

Anwar had hoped Mahathir, after 17 years in power, would step aside during UMNO elections next year and allow Anwar to step down as vice president and run for the top post. The president of UMNO is traditionally named prime minister by the UMNO-dominated Parliament.

''I had wanted a smooth transition,'' Anwar said. ''But he must accept the fact that the undercurrents are also strong.''