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Saturday, Sept 12
Malaysians turn to Internet for Anwar news
International Herald Tribune

KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysia's headlong rush into information technology is receiving strong support these days, although perhaps not among the crowd that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad had intended when he launched a national Internet awareness programme last year.

Frustrated by a near total news blackout in local newspapers, Malaysians are turning in increasing numbers to the Internet for news about Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the country's former Deputy Prime Minister who was dismissed last week by Dr Mahathir for what he calls poor character.

Since Datuk Anwar's ouster, thousands of Malaysians have logged on to web pages and chat groups dedicated to the topic, such as, a site set up by his supporters, and a mirror site located outside the country:

"Now that we have Internet we can read about five newspapers a day -- foreign and local," said an engineer in his 30s, who was among several thousands of people on Wednesday at what has become a nightly gathering at the deposed Deputy Prime Minister's home.

"We get both sides of the story," he said.

One of the sites had recorded more than 100,000 visitors by Wednesday night.

Internet usage in Malaysia is still relatively limited. There are about 500,000 Internet accounts in the country out of a total population of 22 million.

The ongoing dispute between Dr Mahathir, who is said to be an avid Internet user, and Datuk Anwar may push the government to seek tighter controls over the Internet.

There is already talk among Internet users here that has been blocked by the government. "Last week I could get access to the site but since last Saturday I haven't been able to get it," said an employee of one of the country's Internet service providers. "Maybe they've banned it."

Officials at the government-owned company which carries the site on its server -- and who thus have the power to pull the plug on the site -- could not be reached for comment.

Last month, the government arrested three people accused of Internet "rumour-mongering".

They were accused of causing panic about riots in Kuala Lumpur which never happened.

The three suspects, who were detained under the country's Internal Security Act, were found after investigators requested that the government-owned Internet provider, Mimos Bhd -- the same company which hosts -- provide help tracing the e-mail messages back to their source. -- International Herald Tribune