(AFP) Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad held an unprecedented meeting today with opposition politicians but reiterated his refusal to let jailed politician Anwar Ibrahim have surgery overseas.
"The prime minister told us that Anwar will not be allowed to go abroad for treatment," said Fadzil Noor, president of the Parti Islam SeMalaysia.
"That's his final decision."
Mahathir's agreement to meet the opposition to discuss the issue had raised hopes he might be reconsidering his stand.
"We are disappointed with the outcome of the meeting," Fadzil told reporters at the country's administrative capital of Putrajaya.
"We were optimistic that Anwar would be allowed to go abroad for treatment."
Anwar, Mahathir's heir apparent until he was sacked in September 1998, is serving a 15-year jail term after being convicted of abuse of power and sodomy.
Last November he was transferred from jail to the state-run Kuala Lumpur Hospital with a slipped disc. He was moved back to prison on May 10 after he rejected a government offer of spinal surgery at the hospital.
The former deputy premier says he was framed to avert a political challenge to Mahathir, who denies interfering in the judicial process.
Fadzil said Mahathir softened the government's previous position by stating that Anwar could seek treatment at any hospital in Malaysia.
Previously authorities had insisted that any operation must be conducted at Kuala Lumpur Hospital.
"If Anwar does not want to do it at Kuala Lumpur Hospital, he can do it in any other hospital but it must be in the country," Fadzil quoted Mahathir as saying.
Apart from Fadzil, Mahathir met Abdul Rahman Yusuf, a legislator from the National Justice Party headed by Anwar's wife, and Tan Seng Giaw, vice-chairman of the Democratic Action Party.
Asked why Anwar's wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail did not attend the meeting, Fadzil said: "This is because in the letter (about the meeting) that was written to me, it was stated that Wan Azizah should be excluded from the meeting."
Tan said Mahathir reiterated that Anwar could choose the kind of treatment he wanted.
"The PM said Anwar can choose the kind of treatment within the country and not outside because of the various laws including extradition laws."
Tan said the premier did not elaborate on the extradition issue.
Right to a 'less risky' operation
Anwar insists he has a right to a "less risky" endoscopic spinal operation in a specialist clinic in Munich. He has given a guarantee that he would return voluntarily to jail after treatment.
The government says Anwar's preferred foreign endoscopic specialist could conduct surgery in Malaysia if desired and import the necessary equipment. The specialist has said he could not operate here.
The legislators held what Fadzil termed a "cordial" one-hour meeting with the premier. Opposition politicians say it was the first such meeting of its kind.
"We appealed to him numerous times by giving reasons why Anwar needs surgery abroad," Fadzil said.
"We told him it would cost five times more than the estimated amount (for overseas surgery) if the consultant comes to Malaysia.
"But Dr Mahathir said his decision is final, that Anwar cannot go abroad."
Fadzil said he would ask the Human Right Commission of Malaysia, which visited Anwar in his cell on Tuesday to evaluate his request, to appeal for overseas treatment.