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Sunday, Sept 13
Villagers flock to hear Malaysia's Anwar
By Reme Ahmad

POKOK SENA, Malaysia, Sept 13 (Reuters) - Sacked Malaysian finance minister Anwar Ibrahim resumes a cross-country tour on Sunday after drawing a big crowd overnight in Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's home state to hear his side of an alleged sex and treason scandal.

After his first speeches outside Kuala Lumpur since being sacked on September 2, Anwar planned to drive across country on Sunday to a rally at Malacca, south of the capital.

Police said more than 20,000 people had turned out Saturday night to hear Anwar and caused a massive traffic snarl in a sleepy village in northern Kedah state, the prime minister's home state which is ruled by a staunch Mahathir ally, Chief Minister Sanusi Junid.

The small two-lane road leading to the Pondok Derang religious school near Pokok Sena was jammed with vehicles for more than five kilometres (three miles) as Anwar supporters and the curious packed the site.

''There's at least 20,000 people at the school,'' policeman Rosidi told visitors, about two kilometres from the site. An Anwar aide said at least 80,000 people attended the meeting, which finished after midnight as the heavy traffic had delayed Anwar's arrival.

Anwar spoke for about 1- hours, repeating the theme that his sacking as deputy prime minister and finance minister was a conspiracy by top politicians worried by his fast ascendancy in Mahathir's United Malays National Organisation political party (UMNO).

Mahathir also sacked Anwar from UMNO, saying he was "morally'' unfit to lead the party. No formal charges have been brought against Anwar but he is under police investigation for sexual misconduct, treason and other crimes which he denies.

The meeting in Mahathir's home state was the biggest crowd the 51-year-old Anwar has attracted since his sacking.

Anwar had earlier on Saturday addressed a crowd of some 5,000 at his family home in Cherok Tok Kun in northern Penang state. Cherok Tok Kun is also located within the constituency of Permatang Pauh which he represents as an MP.

Villagers at the Pokok Sena meeting gave various reasons for attending. Many said they did not believe Anwar, known widely as a pious Moslem leader, had committed the string of crimes reported in the media.

''I do not believe in all these sex things,'' said fruit trader Baharom Ahmad. ''How can the government blame him for all these without proving it?''

''I don't know whether he's done all these things. That's why I wanted to hear what he has to say,'' said villager Rahmat Ali.

As at other meetings held by Anwar, his followers distributed flyers and sold cassette tapes and videos of his past speeches. Police presence was minimal and was mostly limited to directing traffic.