Malaysian authorities are preparing to deport an Australian senator who said on Saturday he had been refused entry because he was considered a "security risk" ahead of a visit to discuss an election with government and opposition officials.
Independent Australian Senator Nick Xenophon said he was detained when he arrived early on Saturday at a Kuala Lumpur airport.
"I was told I am a security risk and I can't be allowed into the country," Xenophon told Reuters. He said airport officials told him arrangements were being made for him to leave Malaysia on the next available flight.
"It is bizarre and extraordinary," Xenophon said.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Australian officials were seeking Xenophon's immediate release and have raised the issue with the Malaysian government.
"Senator Xenophon's detention is a surprising and disappointing act from a country with which Australia routinely maintains strong diplomatic relations," Carr said in a statement.
Australia and Malaysia have had a sometimes rocky diplomatic relationship. The two countries clashed 20 years ago when former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating called former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad "recalcitrant" for boycotting the 1993 Asia-Pacific economic forum.
Xenophon said he had travelled to Malaysia to meet several parties, including opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, officials from the prime minister's department, the elections commission and the judiciary.
He said he had received a letter from Anwar, Malaysia's former deputy prime minister, last year that outlined concerns about the election and called for independent observers.
The Malaysian foreign ministry confirmed that Xenophon was being held.
"We are aware that the Australian senator has been detained at the airport and we are currently working with the Australian embassy to access the situation," a ministry official said. No other details were available.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak must call the election by the end of April. The poll is set to be the closest in the former British colony's history, with the opposition holding a good chance of toppling the United Malays National Organisation after 56 years in power.
Analysts have said the long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition government, which is anchored by UMNO, could fall.
That prospect is unnerving some government officials, emboldening the opposition and raising risks for investors.
Xenophon said other members of an Australian delegation had cancelled their trip after he was refused entry.