Malaysian police to allow May Day rally

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian police said Wednesday they would allow a May Day rally against price rises that will include opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, retracting earlier statements that the protest would be illegal.

Zainuddin Ahmad, police chief of the district in central Kuala Lumpur where the protest will be held Thursday, confirmed to AFP in a brief text message that authorities would let it go ahead. He did not offer further comment.

The opposition-supported protest takes aim at price increases stemming from subsidy cuts, as well as plans to introduce a general sales tax from next year.

S. Arutchelvan, an opposition politician, said thousands of demonstrators were expected.

"People are already frustrated with the price hikes... implementation of (the sales tax) is just robbing from the poor what little they have," he told AFP.

Anwar is facing five years in jail after an appeals court in March convicted him of sodomy in a case he says is false and orchestrated by Malaysia's long-ruling regime to cripple his rising opposition movement.

He remains free pending further appeal.

US National Security Adviser Susan Rice on Monday met Anwar during a visit to Malaysia by President Barack Obama.

Rice told Anwar his case "raised a number of concerns regarding the rule of law and the independence of the courts".

During his visit, Obama also urged Prime Minister Najib Razak to ensure rights were protected. Najib denied Anwar's case was politically motivated.

The Anwar case and the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have brought international scrutiny on Najib's government, which is widely accused of rampant corruption and harassing opponents.

MH370 disappeared on March 8 and is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean. Malaysia's government and Malaysia Airlines have faced accusations of incompetence and secrecy from relatives of the 239 people aboard.

Inflation remains relatively mild in Malaysia but has risen, from 2.1 per cent for all of last year to 3.4 per cent year-on-year in the first three months of 2014, as the government has cut subsidies to rein in a spiralling budget deficit.

Massive protests in recent years, calling for electoral reform and airing other grievances, were banned by authorities but went ahead anyway, ending in violent clashes with police.