Sunday, October 22, 2006

Malaysia peace talks

Malaysia PM meets Mahathir in bid to mend rift
Sunday, October 22, 2006; 11:05 AM

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia's two most powerful politicians held two hours of talks on Sunday in an attempt to patch up a months-long quarrel that has gripped the nation, alarmed their political party, and dismayed investors.

But the talks were cordial, said former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has fired volleys of criticism at Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi over his decision to shelve major state projects planned before Mahathir retired in 2003.

"My intention was to convey my views and we will wait and see if there will be changes or not," Mahathir, 81, Malaysia's longest-serving prime minister, told reporters after meeting Abdullah, his handpicked successor.

The shelved plans include a new bridge to neighboring Singapore and a major rail project. The development of Mahathir's biggest single state project, the new administrative capital of Putrajaya, has also been slowed down.

"I brought ... up the bridge issue but there was no comment from him," added Mahathir, who said he spoke for an hour-and-a-half while Abdullah listened and took notes.

"Many other issues I brought up were not touched on but he noted everything in his little black book. All the time I was talking he was jotting. I hope following this meeting there will be some kind of action taken."

Mahathir did not say what specific action he expected.


Mahathir's barrage of criticism had unnerved foreign investors and upset the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the key party in Malaysia's ruling coalition, which is led by Abdullah, but which also esteems Mahathir.

Abdullah called an emergency meeting of the party's key decision making body on Sunday night, a government source told Reuters, but the prime minister's spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Malaysian opposition parties had benefited from the quarrel, Mahathir quoted Abdullah as saying.

"He also told me that since I have done this I have become very unpopular and that he has lost popularity because of my criticism and the people that have benefited are Anwar Ibrahim and Nik Aziz," Mahathir said, referring to opposition leaders.

Mahathir had sworn to carry his campaign to the heart of UMNO's annual assembly next month but his plan was frustrated after a humiliating failure in September to win enough votes in his home state to be elected a party delegate to the council.

The man who led UMNO to five straight general election victories, and ruled for 22 years, polled just 227 votes, short of the 240 he needed.

On Sunday, Mahathir said he would continue to speak his mind if the need arose.

"If I find that anything done is not good for the country, I will continue with my criticism," he said. "I did explain that this block against my speaking to UMNO is not good, not right."