Malaysian leader orders police to break up protests calling for ex-deputy's release Contrary to expectations, the soft-spoken Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi came down hard on an opposition campaign at the weekend to pressure him to release jailed former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. Mr Abdullah, who is also Home Minister overseeing police and prosecution, ordered police to break up pro-Anwar rallies and convoys of flag-waving vehicles that were publicising Anwar's plight and testing the prime minister's earlier promise to allow open dissent. Police prevented people from gathering for rallies, with roadblocks at dozens of places across the country. They broke up the rallies and prevented convoys of vehicles from leaving on nationwide journeys to re-ignite publicity for Anwar's cause, which has waned with the departure of Mahathir Mohamad and the ascendancy of Mr Abdullah. 'They blocked every access road and cordoned off the entire rally area,' said Badrul Amin, a senior Justice Party leader whose rally in Sabak Bernam, about 60km west of the capital, was dismantled by police on Saturday morning. Justice Party supreme council member Gobalakrishnan Nagapan said police cordoned off a field outside Mersing in Southern Johore state where he was due to speak, preventing supporters from congregating. 'They also stopped us from driving out in a convoy for Anwar Ibrahim,' Mr Gobalakrishnan said. 'Abdullah is as cruel as Dr Mahathir ... at least Dr Mahathir never claimed to be a Islamic scholar like Abdullah.' The rallies and convoys are part of a month-long campaign by the Justice Party and the International Free Anwar Movement to pressure Mr Abdullah to free Anwar, who is serving a 15-year-jail term for corruption and sodomy that runs until 2009. The campaign is supported by the Islamic party PAS and the secular Democratic Action Party. A police spokesman said the gatherings were illegal because no permits had been issued. 'Any gathering of more then five people without a police permit is an illegal gathering,' the spokesman said, adding the convoys were traffic hazards. The protests came ahead of today's court ruling on Anwar's application for bail - a request previously denied to Anwar, once touted as heir to Dr Mahathir. An early general election, expected before April, has added urgency to the campaign. Opposition parties are saying Anwar's release is the top among five priorities in their election campaign. Other priorities include a corruption-free government, open tender system and revamp of the inefficient police force. Mr Abdullah enjoys strong public support for cleaning up the government and police force.