Tue, Aug 15, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Malaysia's former PM offers deal

THE BRIDGE IS THE CRUX Mahathir said his attacks on current Prime Minister Abdullah's administration would stop if a road link to Singapore was completed

AP , KUALA LUMPUR

Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad said he would end his stinging tirade against the current government if it agrees to restart plans to build a bridge to Singapore.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi "has to build the bridge. If he does that, I don't have any comments," said Mahathir, according to the New Straits Times newspaper yesterday. Mahathir's aide, Sufi Yusoff, confirmed the comments.

Mahathir, who hand-picked Abdullah to replace him after 22 years in power in 2003, has attacked the current administration for abandoning some of his pet projects, and particularly for electing not to build the bridge between Malaysia and Singapore.

Asking too much

Abdullah's government had said Singapore was asking for too much in return for building its half of the bridge, while Mahathir argued the administration ignored broad support for the bridge in Malaysia's southern state of Johor, where it was to be built.

Mahathir's comments came as Abdullah began a trip to Johor yesterday, where officials said he would announce new business initiatives including cargo centers.

In recent months, Mahathir's verbal assault on his successor has gone beyond the bridge, accusing Abdullah of nepotism, corruption and canceling initiatives he said would benefit the country.

Local mainstream media, which rarely criticize the government, have reported officials as saying Mahathir, 81, is intent on unseating Abdullah.

In a dispute about the car industry, Mahathir alleged on Saturday that there may have been "payments" between the current government and car-import permit holders he says are ruining loss-making national carmaker Proton.

Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz -- whose ministry has been directly blamed by Mahathir for failing to protect Proton -- yesterday became the latest official to urge the former premier to end his assault.

`Uncalled for'

"Please do not pre-empt the judgment of the party and the public with the very harsh, uncalled-for criticisms," Rafidah said at a press conference yesterday.

"The economic environment is changing and so volatile. With the Middle East crisis and oil prices ... We cannot afford to have the attention of our leaders, our bureaucracy and private sector diverted to this non-issue," she said.

The months of acrimony between Mahathir and Abdullah have sparked fears of a split in the ruling party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO). Mahathir no longer leads UMNO, but still has widespread respect -- and support -- among its 3 million members.

Abdullah has made his case to counter Mahathir's claims on national TV, but the former leader has said the replies are unsatisfactory.

Officials said Abdullah was scheduled yesterday to oversee other multi-billion ringgit development projects during his trip to Johor State.

The national news agency also said Abdullah would have a lunch meeting with UMNO members in Johor, where UMNO was founded and which is considered an important area for politicians to win backing.

Government officials have said the projects there are to stimulate investment to compete with Singapore for foreign investment.

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