Last edited: September 06, 2004

Thousands See Anwar Off at Airport

Malaysia’s former DPM flies off to Munich for back surgery, missing his daughter’s convocation

The Straits Times, September 5, 2004

By Salim Osman

FORMER Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, who was released from prison on Thursday, flew off to Munich last night for an operation on a back injury suffered partly from a police beating in custody six years ago.

His departure, however, meant that he missed an important event in the life of one of his most tireless campaigners—the graduation ceremony of his eldest daughter, Nurul Izzah.

‘We cannot wait,’ Datuk Seri Anwar told reporters yesterday.

‘The doctors insist I arrive in Munich by Sunday so that the surgery can be done on Monday.’

Datuk Seri Anwar—who was ferried to the airport in a gold-coloured Mercedes-Benz—was accompanied by a huge motorcade of cars numbering in the hundreds.

An ambulance followed, then a long line of cars hung with flags and banners urging ‘Reformasi’, the former leader’s battle cry for democratic reform.

About 2,000 people showed up at the airport for his farewell.

Malaysia Airlines agreed to let him keep his first-class seat fully reclined during takeoff and landing to ease his back pain, his aide Azmin Ali said.

Expenses are being borne by his family.

Earlier yesterday, a teary-eyed Anwar embraced Ms Nurul before she headed to a graduation ceremony at the University Tenaga Nasional to accept her electrical engineering degree.

‘I feel bad,’ he said, his voice choking. ‘She’s one of the top students. Convocation of children is so important. You have to be there.’

On Friday, Datuk Seri Anwar savoured his first taste of freedom, sleeping on his own bed after being released from the Sungai Buloh prison.

‘I found it strange that I am not sleeping alone anymore. I now need to adjust,’ the 57-year-old said in jest, as he chatted with friends who came in droves to see him at his bungalow in the exclusive Damansara Heights on Friday.

Soon after the dramatic court ruling that quashed his sodomy conviction on Thursday, Datuk Seri Anwar told his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail: ‘Zah, get me durians.’

Upon his release, Datuk Seri Anwar was ferried to a waiting car for a ride to his father’s house in Country Heights in Kajang, Selangor, for a family gathering.

His younger brother Rusli, 56, told The Sunday Times: ‘It was an emotional reunion for all of us.

We knew he was in great pain, but Anwar, being Anwar, put up a cheerful front.’

Crowds of supporters had already flocked to his home after being told about the good news, mainly via the short messaging service, by the time he reached there just before 3pm.

Datuk Seri Anwar, wearing neck and waist braces, remained within the living rooms while well-wishers called on him.

After the night prayers, he addressed the crowd which had spilled into the streets.

‘I too miss you all so much,’ he said in deep Penang Malay accent. ‘Six years is a short time because we meet again.’

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