- KUALA LUMPUR (AFP)
-- Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad delivered messages to the
world's Jews and his own people on his final full day in office overnight
after 22 years in power and weeks of controversy.
- Under fire for his recent criticism of Jews, Mahathir
told a news conference that he sympathised with them over their past suffering,
but accused them of now making Muslims suffer.
- Asked what message he had for Jews around the world,
Mahathir said: "They must never think they are the chosen people who
cannot be criticised at all.
- "They suffered a great deal in the past. They were
killed, they were massacred and finally there was the Holocaust. We sympathise
- "We are very sad to see how the Jews were ill-treated
by the Europeans. They must remember when they were ill-treated by Europeans
they had to run to Muslim countries to seek refuge.
- "The Muslims never ill-treated the Jews, but now
they are behaving exactly how the Europeans behaved towards them against
- He made it clear he was referring to the plight of the
Palestinians, whom he said had been expelled from their own country so
that it could be given to the Jews.
- Mahathir's final weeks in office have been dogged by
international outrage over his remarks about Jews at an Islamic summit
in Malaysia in mid-October, when he said they ruled the world by proxy,
getting others to fight and die for them.
- Mahathir has since then defended that statement, but
insisted his words were taken out of context and that he also criticised
Muslims and called for an end to Palestinian violence.
- Earlier, Mahathir addressed parliament, defending his
democratic record and predicting strong economic growth in an upbeat final
- Facing opposition questioning for the last time, Mahathir
warned that too much freedom could lead to anarchy in Malaysia's multi-racial
society and made a strong call for national unity.
- "As I retire from the nation's highest elected office,
I call upon every Malaysian to rise to the occasion to face the challenges
as they emerge and shoulder the responsibilites of citizenship," he
- "If we do this, there is no reason why we cannot
continue to be successful and make this country a model for the world to
- Groups of schoolchildren crowded the public gallery and
Mahathir was praised lavishly by some MPs, but the session was free of
the tears and emotion which have marked a series of farewells.
- Mahathir predicted real GDP growth at an average of six
percent a year, which he said would put the country on track to realising
its target of becoming an industrialised nation by 2020.
- Before that, however, Asia's longest-serving elected
leader faced a question and answer session in which opposition MPs probed
his commitment to democracy.
- Mahathir defended controls such as detention without
trial of terrorism suspects and the banning of communists from elections
as essential to maintaining democracy.
- While the government believed in free speech, he said,
it also had to ensure that racial sentiments in Malaysia's multicultural
society were not inflamed.
- Mahathir, who has always made it clear that he sees race
as a central preoccupation, described national unity as the country's greatest
asset. Malaysia has a Malay Muslim majority of around 60 percent of its
24 million people, but also large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
- Journalists in Malaysia, soon to be bereft of a prime
minister who made news almost every time he opened his mouth, were apparently
disappointed by this last parliamentary appearance, asking Mahathir at
a news conference afterwards why his performance had been so "quiet".
- Mahathir replied: "You can make it loud. I can go
out with a bang if you want, I can say nasty things. Ask me a nasty question,
I will give you a nasty answer."
- Nobody did at that stage, the question on Jews came at
a later news conference.
- Mahathir's chosen successor, Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah
Ahmad Badawi, will be sworn-in by King Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin at 3.00pm
local time today.
- Copyright 2003 News Limited.