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Cabinet minister arrested on murder charge

By
SUSAN ROBINSON

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- A key Malaysian Cabinet minister and four other men were arrested Saturday on charges of murdering a political rival, police said.

Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Mokhtar Hashim was arrested on charges of killing Negri Sembilan State Assembly Speaker Mohamad Taha Talib in April, a police spokesman said.

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Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who won election last year on a pledge of cleaning up the corruption that is rife in Malaysian politics, was believed to be grooming Mokhtar for mori senior positions in his government.

Mokhtar and the other four men were refused bail and will appear again Tuesday in the high court in Kuala Lumpur, where the case has been transferred. If found guilty, they face the death penalty.

Political sources said although Mahathir is unlikely to fall from power over the incident, his opponents within his own United Malay Party are likely to make political mileage out of it.

If Mokhtar resigns it will force Mahathir to reshuffle his Cabinet, the sources said. Mokhtar was arrested shortly after midnight at his plush home in a wealthy suburb of Kuala Lumpur and driven under heavy police guard to Tampin, about 70 miles to the south, for the arraignment.

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Mahathir, who elevated Mokhtar to full minister in a May Cabinet reshuffle, looked visibly shaken by the news of the scandal that threatens to rock his administration.

The prime minister said he has not receivid nor asked for Mokhtar's resignation.

'Why should I?' Mahathir said. 'He has not been found guilty yet.'

Informed sources said Mokhtar's arrest was just the tip of the iceberg with several highly placed men at the state and federal level likely to be implicated in the political assassination plot.

Mokhtar, the Gemencheh village headman and three others are charged with the murder of Taha, the former speaker who was gunned down outside his Gemencheh house in the early hours of April 14.

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