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Malaysia's Olympic star takes spotlight off Anwar

Malaysia's Olympic star takes spotlight off Anwar

Malaysia's government has feted the country's new Olympic hero in the district where Anwar Ibrahim is contesting a by-election next week, raising concerns the sportsman was used to turn the spotlight off the opposition leader.
Lee Chong Wei, who won the men's singles badminton silver medal, received a reward check of 300,000 ringgit (US$94,000) from Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak at a ceremony late Wednesday in the Permatang Pauh constituency in northern Penang state.
The ceremony took place as the 10-day campaign period for the Aug. 26 election reached the halfway point. Anwar is expected to win easily despite being charged with sodomizing a former male aide, an accusation he has dismissed as a political conspiracy.
Najib hailed Lee as a poster-boy for the government's efforts to provide equal opportunities to all minorities in this Malay, Muslim-majority country. Lee, 25, is an ethnic Chinese and is the first Malaysian to win an Olympic medal in more than 10 years.
"There are some people who claim that we are unfair" to minorities, Najib said, referring to the opposition's campaign that discrimination is entrenched against Chinese and Indians, who together form about 40 percent of the country's 27 million people.
"We provide fair and equal opportunities to all races in this country," Najib said.
Although Lee is a native of Penang state, the timing of the ceremony and the location _ in the heart of Permatang Pauh _ has raised eyebrows, with even the government-linked New Straits Times daily newspaper questioning the ruling coalition's motives.
"Coincidence? Crass political exploitation? Why not? Penang boy Chong Wei getting the award in his home state is the perfect setting, except for that little by-election gig where (Anwar) is heavily involved," the Times wrote on Wednesday.
"It was inevitable: Lee Chong Wei has, unwittingly or not, been made a fodder in this by-election battle," it said.
The Democratic Action Party, an ally of Anwar's People's Justice Party, also complained.
"Chong Wei is a national hero for all Malaysians. It will be great pity if this national status is diminished by making him a "fodder" in the Permatang Pauh by-election," DAP leader Lim Kit Siang said.
Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, held the Permatang Pauh seat from 1982 to 1999, when he was forced to vacate it after being ousted from the Cabinet and put on trial on charges of corruption and sodomizing his family driver.
Anwar was convicted and imprisoned on both charges, which he denied. He was freed in 2004 after Malaysia's top court quashed the sodomy conviction. The corruption conviction remained, barring him from political office until April 2008.
The ban prevented Anwar from contesting March elections in which his three-party alliance won an unprecedented 82 of Parliament's 222 seats. Anwar has vowed to topple the government by Sept. 16.