Tue, Mar 22, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Australia urged to negotiate free trade pact with caution


Malaysian dissident Anwar Ibrahim yesterday urged the Australian government to consider human rights and corruption concerns when negotiating free trade agreements with Asian nations.

The former Malaysian deputy prime minister -- who spent six years in jail on charges he claims were politically motivated -- said Australia should not be "dictated to by purely economic and trade interests" when negotiating free trade deals with its Asian neighbors.

Talks on a possible free trade pact between Australia and China are expected to be launched when Prime Minister John Howard visits Beijing next month. Canberra is also considering a trade deal with Malaysia.

Free media

"It is, I think, an absurd notion to suggest that a free trade agreement does not involve related issues like a free media," Anwar said. "How do you have a free trade agreement without an independent judiciary?"

Anwar -- who is scheduled to address a conference of Asian lawyers' professional associations on the Gold Coast in eastern Australia on Tuesday -- also slammed Australia's leaders for sending troops to Iraq while turning a blind eye to political abuses in its own backyard, calling the situation "untenable."

Political abuse

He accused Canberra of ignoring the plight of Myanmar's jailed opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and failing to pressure the Malaysian government to fight corruption and relax its control over the largely state-run media.

"How do you explain supporting freedom in Iraq when you don't have a free media in Malaysia?" he said. "I'm not suggesting that they go to war, but at least articulate these views consistent to the ideas."

Anwar's political career was destroyed in 1998 when he was sacked from government by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed and arrested for alleged sodomy and corruption.

He served four years in jail on the corruption charge and another two for the sodomy conviction before it was overturned in September 2004.

Anwar maintains he was victimized because he exposed corruption in Mahathir's administration.

Since his release, the charismatic politician has become an active pro-democracy and anti-corruption campaigner.

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