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Written by: Staff
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SINGAPORE, Apr 2 (Reuters) A prominent Singapore opposition leader said today authorities had stopped him from leaving the country and impounded his passport as he had failed to draw up a plan to pay libel damages to two former premiers.

Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the tiny Singapore Democratic party, was leaving for Turkey yesterday to attend the World Movement for Democracy conference when he was stopped by immigration officers at the airport.

''I was at the airport when the officers whisked me away and impounded my passport. They told me I do not have permission to leave the country,'' Chee told Reuters.

The Immigration and Checkpoint Authority could not be immediately reached for comment.

''I planned to go to the conference to highlight the upcoming election and brief the participants on the government's use of vote buying through the cash bonus scheme and also their use of intimidation by linking upgrading of estates to the election,'' he said.

The High Court declared Chee bankrupt in February for failing to make libel payments of S$500,000 ($308,500) to former Prime Ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong in a case dating back to the 2001 parliamentary elections, when he questioned their use of public funds.

Chee said bankruptcy officials wanted a payment plan for libel damages awarded to Lee and Goh which he was unable to provide since he did not have sufficient funds.

According to Chee, a former university lecturer, he was then asked to submit his income and expenditure statements before his application to leave the country could be considered.

''I submitted those documents on Friday but they still rejected my application and I'm now asked draw up a payment proposal again,'' Chee said.

Singapore laws bar bankrupts from travelling overseas, but lawyers said Chee's case was unusual as applications to travel are frequently granted when proper documents are provided.

Chee is the Singapore government's most acerbic critic and has had several run-ins with the People's Action Party (PAP), which has ruled the city-state since independence in 1965.

Last month, he was jailed for eight days for questioning the independence of the Singapore judiciary.

PAP has dominated parliament since 1965 and has 82 of the 84 seats in the current house. Chee's party has no seats.

Although Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew's son, is not due to call an election till June 2007, political observers say a poll is expected this year.

In February, Lee announced a generous S$2.7 billion ($1.6 billion) budget spending package flush with handouts.

Last week, Goh, who holds the position of a senior minister in cabinet, told voters that their constituency stands to be dropped out of a state-subsidised home renovation programme if they elect an opposition candidate.

REUTERS CH KP1553

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