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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) Nov 17 - Malaysia will set up a panel with wide powers to probe opposition claims that a senior lawyer used political connections to fix judicial appointments, the state news agency, Bernama, reported.The move follows recommendations for such an inquiry - which Malaysians call
a Royal Commission - by a three-member panel the government set up to decide the authenticity of a videotape released by the opposition in September to support the claim.
Malaysian lawyers and opposition parties have been pressing for a royal commission, saying the three-member independent panel did not have enough powers to do the job.
"We've agreed to set up the commission. Now we're deciding on the terms of reference, the tasks to be undertaken by the commission," Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told reporters, according to a Bernama report late on Friday.
The video has touched a nerve in the judiciary, whose reputation has been under question since the late 1980s, when the head of the Supreme Court was removed from office after a clash between then premier Mahathir Mohamad and the judiciary.
Mahathir also introduced constitutional changes in 1988 that limited judges' powers and, critics say, effectively ensured that government decisions could be protected from legal challenge. Malaysian opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said he could only offer a conditional welcome for the news, because he feared the terms of the inquiry would be too limited to resolve the crisis of confidence in the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
"There is a disturbing indication that it will be a very restricted and circumscribed inquiry," Lim, who heads the mainly ethnic Chinese Democratic Action Party, said in a statement.
Malaysia's Bar Council, which says it represents all of the country's roughly 12,000 lawyers, staged a rare march in September to press for a royal commission to investigate the charges aired in the videotape, said to have been made in 2002.
A royal commission of inquiry has wider powers to call witnesses and compel them to give evidence than the inquiry panel the government first set up.
Abdullah said three ministers asked to provide legal input on the panel's report would do so at a weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday, and the commission's members would be picked after the scope of its inquiry had been set, Bernama added.