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Anwar loses final bid for release

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Jailed Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Wednesday lost his final bid for freedom when a federal court rejected his appeal to set aside his sodomy conviction and five-year jail term.

Once a rising star in the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party, Anwar is the greatest threat to Prime Minister Najib Razak and his coalition, after leading a three-party opposition alliance to stunning electoral gains in 2013.

A panel of five judges ruled unanimously that Anwar’s application for a review of his 2014 conviction, his final legal option for an acquittal, was without merit.

“This is not a fit or proper case for this court to exercise its inherent jurisdiction to initiate a review,” Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin, the Chief Judge of Malaya, said as he read excerpts from a 60-page ruling.

Anwar was convicted and jailed for sodomizing a former aide, a charge he and his supporters describe as a politically motivated attempt to end his career.

“This is not the end of the road … I have pleaded and reiterated my innocence, but the judiciary has ignored my pleas,” Anwar told reporters in the court after the verdict.

“This is a long walk to freedom,” he said.

Anwar is widely expected to be released after serving another 16 months, as Malaysia grants a one-third reduction of jail terms for good behavior. Anwar’s prison term ends in 2020.

But the conviction disqualifies him from political office and from contesting the next election that must be held by 2018.