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Cabinet ministers rally behind Malaysian leader, express shock at Mahathir's attack

Cabinet ministers rally behind Malaysian leader, express shock at Mahathir's attack

Top government members on Tuesday rallied behind Malaysia's prime minister in his spat with former leader Mahathir Mohamad, whose vitriolic criticisms have shaken the country and damaged investor confidence.
In his most personal attack yet, Mahathir on Monday accused Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of nepotism, corruption and mismanaging the country's economy _ but as before, Mahathir gave no proof.
Mahathir's remarks came just hours after he and Abdullah held a private two-hour meeting that many had hoped would lead to reconciliation and persuade the elder statesman to end his one-man campaign to oust the prime minister.
"I was shocked by the statements made by (Mahathir) immediately after the meeting had concluded," Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters.
"Most people thought that this was the beginning of trying to work things out between the P.M. and Tun," Najib said, referring to Mahathir with the nation's highest civilian title, given him for his service to the nation.
Mahathir's actions appear to have little overt support in the ruling United Malays National Organization party, but it is difficult to gauge his behind-the-scenes influence. The Cabinet has consistently supported Abdullah during the past year, as he has faced Mahathir's ire.
"I don't know what's going to happen," Najib said. "Time will tell what happens after this now that Tun has come out with such strong criticisms, but we had hoped for better things to happen between the two of them for the sake of the party and the nation."
Mahathir, the founder of modern Malaysia, governed for 22 years before retiring in October 2003 and handing over the reins to his hand-picked successor, Abdullah.
But Abdullah's decision last year to scrap a Mahathir-initiated bridge-building between Malaysia and Singapore opened the floodgates of criticism.
Mahathir has since unleashed a litany of accusations against Abdullah, including failing to protect national carmaker Proton from foreign imports and promoting the companies of his son and son-in-law.
On Monday, Mahathir for the first time suggested the prime minister may be personally guilty of nepotism and corruption. He cited a recommendation letter Abdullah wrote for a relative's companies that obtained contracts in the U.N.'s oil-for-food program in Iraq, which was later widely discredited for corrupt deals worldwide.
At the time, Abdullah was deputy prime minister under Mahathir, who claimed he did not know what was going on. Abdullah has acknowledged having written the letter but said he did not benefit from the deal.
Najib said Abdullah plans to provide "detailed and long replies" to Mahathir's criticism, which will require time to put together. He did not elaborate.
Environment Minster Azmi Khalid also defended Abdullah.
"Knowing Dr. Mahathir since his younger days, it is very difficult to shut him up. I think the best thing for this government is to show performance," Azmi told reporters.
He said it appears that Mahathir wants to run the government indirectly.
Abdullah, a highly respected Islamic scholar who has handled Mahathir so far with dignified silence, refused to react to his latest attacks.
"There will be a time for that," he told reporters at a government celebration of the Eid-al-Fitr holiday to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Earlier Tuesday, Abdullah visited the grave of his wife Endon Mahmood, who died of cancer on Oct. 20 last year.
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Associated Press correspondent En-lai Yeoh in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-29 02:28 GMT+08:00