Monday, May 3, 1999

Visit to Manila
touches a nerve
in Malaysia

Bullet The issue: The wife of Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister of Malaysia who has been convicted on charges of corruption, visited Manila as the guest of former President Corazon Aquino.
Bullet Our view: The visit brings into focus parallels between the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos and the current situation in Malaysia.

THE plight of Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister of Malaysia who was fired and then convicted on trumped-up charges, has evoked a strongly sympathetic response in the Philippines. The reason is that Anwar's case is being compared to that of Benigno Aquino, the leading opponent of President Ferdinand Marcos, who was assassinated in 1983.

In Anwar's case, he provoked the wrath of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad by breaking with him on economic policy issues. Anwar was convicted last month on charges of corruption and sentenced to six years in prison. He has denied the charges, maintaining that his prosecution was an attempt to silence him.

In Aquino's case, his widow, Corazon, became the rallying point for the opposition to Marcos after his death. In 1986 she became president when Marcos was overthrown and restored democracy in the Philippines.

Now Anwar's wife, Azizah Ismail, has visited Manila as the guest of Corazon Aquino, who has returned to private life. Azizah also met last week with the current president, Joseph Estrada, who says he considers her husband a friend.

Estrada called the visit at the presidential residence "purely private," but the Malaysian government was openly displeased. Earlier, Estrada said that he would tell Azizah to convey words of encouragement to Anwar and tell him to continue fighting for his rights.

In Kuala Lumpur, Mahathir criticized Azizah for seeking foreign help.

Mahathir has reason to fear the Philippine precedent. Like Marcos, he has become intolerant of dissent. The treatment of Anwar has provoked protest demonstrations. He could become a popular martyr like Aquino.

The meetings of Anwar's wife with Corazon Aquino and President Estrada must have made the Malaysian leader nervous. He knows full well what happened to Marcos.


ASEAN’s new member

Bullet The issue: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has admitted Cambodia as its 10th member.
Bullet Our view: ASEAN membership could help Cambodia achieve a measure of economic growth.

THIRTY-TWO years after its founding, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has achieved the inclusion of all nations in the region as members of the organization. Cambodia was the 10th and last to be admitted -- at a ceremony last week in Hanoi. That could hardly have been imagined when ASEAN was founded in 1967, with the Vietnam War raging.

Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Manh Cam called Cambodia's admission a "historically significant event" that will usher in a new state of development for ASEAN and its members.

Japan, a major investor and aid donor in the region, also hailed the ceremony. Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi sent a letter of congratulations to his Cambodian counterpart, Hun Sen.

ASEAN initially agreed to admit Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar in July 1997. But the induction of Cambodia was delayed after Hun Sen ousted his co-premier in a violent coup. A new coalition government was formed last November following elections, paving the way for Cambodia to join ASEAN.

The organization now will consist of Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia.

ASEAN has been primarily concerned with promoting economic development in Southeast Asia through such means as tariff reduction, but has also ventured recently into discussions of regional security.

Admission to ASEAN gives Cambodia a degree of respectability and may lead to some economic growth, which is desperately needed after years of warfare. But other ASEAN members have been shaken by Asia's economic troubles.


The frog mystery

Bullet The issue: For years many species of frogs have been declining from unknown causes.
Bullet Our view: New research findings suggest that the cause does not pose a direct threat to humans.

FOR years researchers have known that many species of frogs are declining in number from unknown causes. Among the suspects were pesticides, chemical pollution and excessive ultraviolet radiation caused by a thinning of the atmosphere's ozone layer. The phenomenon attracted much attention because it was considered a possible warning about an environmental problem that could affect humans.

It turns out that at least part of the explanation is something else entirely. Two studies published in the journal Science conclude that defects found in frogs throughout the Western United States may be caused by a trematode, which is a tiny parasitic flatworm.

Stanley K. Sessions of Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., co-author of one of the studies, said the worm infects the developing legs of tadpoles, which causes them to grow extra, deformed hind legs. This malformation dooms the tadpole when it grows into a mature frog.

Scientists aren't prepared to say that the flatworm is the total explanation for the worldwide decline of frogs and other amphibians. But it appears to be at least part of the explanation -- and not something that poses a direct threat to humans.

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