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Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) is a conference about human rights first held in May 2009 in Oslo, Norway. Founded by the Human Rights Foundation's Thor Halvorssen, it is "part of the Human Rights Foundation's ongoing campaign to defend and promote human freedom around the world." The forum aims to bring together world leaders including former heads of state, winners of the Nobel Peace Prize and prisoners of conscience as well as a selection of authors, together with business, political and cultural leaders from both Norway and internationally. According to the Forum website, the first Oslo Freedom Forum was "made possible thanks to a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation". It also received support from the government of Norway. The second OFF is scheduled to take place in April 2010 in Oslo. It is supported by Norway's Fritt Ord, Amnesty International, the Nobel Peace Center, the Norwegian Author's Union, University of Oslo, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the Thiel Foundation and the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights.

Anwar Ibrahim is the former deputy prime minister of Malaysia and the current leader of Keadilan, the People’s Justice Party. Before becoming deputy prime minister in 1996, Ibrahim held various cabinet positions, including minister of agriculture, culture, education, and finance. During his tenure as finance minister, Malaysia earned recognition as an “Asian tiger" and Newsweek named him its 1998 “Asian of the Year" for his role in steering Malaysia's economy out of the Asian financial crisis. Later that year, Ibrahim spearheaded a reform movement that eventually led him to criticize Prime Minister Mahathir – of his own party – of corruption. Ibrahim was subsequently removed from office, arrested, and sentenced to six years in solitary confinement. He was released from prison in 2004, whereupon he became a consultant for the World Bank and also a professor. After lecturing for several years on accountability, democracy, governance, and Islam at St. Anthony's College at Oxford, Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, and Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, he reentered Malaysian politics. In 2008, he won a landslide election to become a member of the Malaysian Parliament. Today, Ibrahim is working to form a new government that would break more than 50 years of one-party rule.

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SIBU, May 16 —The DAP pulled off a surprise win in the Sibu by-election today, defeating Barisan Nasional’s (BN) SUPP by 398 votes in a hard fought race. DAP’s Wong Ho Leng polled 18,845 votes compared to BN candidate Robert Lau’s 18,447 votes. The margin of victory was just a little more than the 395 spoilt votes. The independent candidate garnered 232 votes. “Thank you Sibu. Thank you Malaysia. One small step in winning Sibu, one giant step to winning Putrajaya, “ Wong said after he was declared the winner.

BN had earlier been expected to retain its Sarawak stronghold but lost despite the best efforts of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. The Sibu vote is seen as a bellwether for the Sarawak state elections which must be called by next year. Asked by reporters today what he thought today’s result would mean for impending state polls, Wong said “Sarawak is ready for change.” DAP is the biggest opposition party in Sarawak and is expected to put up a serious challenge in the next state polls. Today’s result is also significant in that Pakatan Rakyat (PR) has snapped a streak of successive defeats to BN in recent by-elections.

The count now is 8-3 in favour of PR in terms of wins in by-elections held since Election 2008. Today’s result is also a setback for Najib who had personally campaigned for BN and had placed his own reputation on the line. Najib has been counting on Sabah and Sarawak as BN’s fixed deposit, but today’s result shows a major swing from 2008 when BN won the seat by more than 3,000 votes. Today’s result also raises two thorny issues — how to deal with the Tan Sri Taib Mahmud factor and whether to push for state polls which sources say had been slated for October this year.

Taib, who has been at the helm for more than two decades now, was absent from most of the Sibu campaign because BN had anticipated DAP attacks against his leadership. The white-haired chief minister known as “pek moh” among Chinese voters has been heavily criticised for alleged abuse of power. He has to call state elections by next year and Najib and BN had been hoping a resounding win would provide the ruling coalition the momentum needed to go into the next general elections. The victorious Wong called his win tonight a miracle. “It is a miracle we have created together. For those who did not vote for me I now want to be your friend,” he said.

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Slamming the Barisan Nasional (BN) regime as authoritarian, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (picture) called for civil society to take centrestage in the development of democracy in Malaysia. “Opposition parties and civil society must enjoy freedom of speech. Can it be democracy if they are barred from the airwaves? “We must not just guarantee civil liberties in a document, but basic institutions of civil society must be in place,” the Opposition leader said to nearly 200 people in a lecture hosted by the Cambridge University Southeast Asia Forum.

The former deputy prime minister criticised the likes of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed, who as prime minister had sacked Anwar from the deputy premiership, as well as the People’s Action Party in Singapore as holding to the dictum of “government knows best” and being condescending to its citizens. He said that there should be no need for licenses for media outlets as currently required and that withholding permits to hold public gatherings and protests ran contrary to fundamental principles of freedom even if unbridled freedom might not be acceptable to everyone as “it is up to the electorate to decide.”

Despite himself rising high in the BN hierarchy in the 1980s and 1990s, Anwar seemed to highlight exactly this period — “hardly three decades from the euphoria of independence” — as a time of blatant dictatorship which saw “despotism and greed for power.” “There was no tradition of discussion or reasoned debate in Umno or BN as we have between the parties in Pakatan Rakyat,” he said, comparing his experiences in the governing and opposition coalitions in Malaysia. “We fought colonisers because of the sanctity of freedom. It is totally unacceptable that after half a century, our people are not ready. What have you been doing if not to prepare citizens to accept democratic change and progress?” he said of BN’s unbroken rule since Malaysia’s independence in 1957.

He further chastised BN for limiting multiracial unity to terms like “tolerance” rather than extending it to “appreciation and understanding.” The de facto PKR leader also stressed on individual rights to self-determination and expression. Citing the personal attacks on Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, PKR’s candidate for the recent Hulu Selangor by-elections, for having consumed alcohol in the past, he said individuals have the right to decide and determine their own personal behaviour. “It is not our business to peep and pry into people’s doors and windows and judge them,” he said.

He added that it was hypocritical of Umno leaders to criticise Zaid as even Dr Mahathir’s son, Mirzan Mahathir, was a board member of San Miguel, a Filipino beermaker, although he has recently stepped down. “They (Umno) do not chase the rich and famous but only the weak and poor,” he said. He called on political leaders to “listen to the voice of conscience and be prepared to do the right thing” in allowing citizens to exercise basic civil liberties such as the right to a fair trial.

“We are not soft on crime or condone any excesses by terrorist. But it is untenable to continue this way,” he said of laws that allowed for detention without trial. Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders have also been accused in the past of taking the side of criminals rather than law enforcers and recent controversy over the shooting by the police of 14-year-old Aminulrasyid Amzah who was driving illegally has also become a political issue for opposition lawmakers.

KUALA LUMPUR: Repairs to a fault in the submarine cable network linking Malaysia, Europe and the United States are expected to cause disruptions in nationwide Internet services from today until May 2.

Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM) said it was taking active steps to minimise disruptions by having additional links on other routes and coordinating with other international carriers to provide additional bandwidth for its customers.

“Despite these initiatives, customers using Internet services nationwide may experience some degree of service degradation, such as slow browsing while accessing international websites.

“Customers using Virtual Private Network and other critical business applications linked to Europe and the US will be assured of minimal service degradation, if any,” said TM in a statement yesterday.

TM will also provide necessary updates on the progress of the restoration works.

“We apologise for any inconvenience caused and assure customers that we are taking all necessary measures to ensure that customers experience uninterrupted service.”

For more information, contact TM at 100 and select “Technical Assistance” or e-mail for any Internet-related problems.

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