Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has called for more tolerance among Malaysia's ethnic groups, a news report said yesterday.
The Sunday Star newspaper quoted Abdullah as saying that race and religion are sensitive issues in the country.
"I hope the people will train themselves to become more tolerant so that these issues will no longer be sensitive in years to come," he said. "We need to uphold the spirit of goodwill among the various communities."
Malays comprise nearly 60 percent of Malaysia's 26 million people, ethnic Chinese about a quarter of the population and Indians around 10 percent.
Under an affirmative action program instituted in 1970 after deadly ethnic riots, Malays are given privileges in business contracts, housing, bank loans, education and government jobs, intended to help them catch up with the wealthier Chinese.
Abdullah said that such policies were aimed at economic development that benefits all Malaysians, the report said.
"If there are policies which appear to favor certain groups, these have only been decided upon after considering all factors, including the balance that has to be achieved," he was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile Malaysia's deputy foreign minister yesterday denied the row between former premier Mahathir Mohamad and Badawi was damaging the country's reputation abroad.
"To them [other countries] the spat between the two are personal matters," the state Bernama news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Joseph Salang as saying.
Mahathir has said Abdullah is running a "police state" and has accused him of nepotism, corruption and economic mismanagement.
A senior figure in the ruling United Malays National Organization, Kedah chief state minister Mahdzir Khalid, said, however, that Mahathir's conduct had been an embarrassment to the party, which had ruled for some four decades.
Mahdzir also questioned Mahathir's allegation that Abdullah had turned Malaysia into a police state, noting that during Mahathir's tenure as prime minister no one had dared criticize him.