31 October, 2006

Mahathir-"Not the Retiring Type"

Malaysian PM hails gas cooperation with China

Prime Minister Abdullah Haji Ahmad Badawi on Monday in Naning expressed satisfaction about the natural gas cooperation with China and was hopeful of further progress.

The cooperation in natural gas has been satisfactorily going on since the beginning of this year, and there will be greater space for such a cooperation between China and Malaysia as the two countries see their economy moving forward in a constant and steady way, he said when meeting Lu Bing, chairman of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Regional Government.

Badawi is here to attend the commemorative summit marking the 15th anniversary of the dialogue relations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Earlier the day, the Shenergy Group announced that a Shanghai terminal will begin receiving LNG (liquefied natural gas) supply from Malaysia as of 2009 with the annual delivery of no less than 1.1 million tons.

According to a contract with the term of 25 years, the supply will grow year-by-year to three million tons in 2012 and then the delivery will be kept stable.

When meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao here Monday, Badawi said energy sector is one of the key areas of the Malaysia- China cooperation.

Energy cooperation is also among the four major sectors Wen proposed that the two countries could focus on in their relationship.

The contract, inked by the Shanghai LNG Co. Ltd and a subsidiary of Petronas, Malaysia's national petroleum corporation, is so far the largest trade contract between the two countries, marking the beginning of the energy cooperation.

Shanghai LNG Co. Ltd is a joint-venture co-funded by the Shenergy Group and a wholly-owned subsidiary of CNOOC (China National Offshore Oil Corporation), with Shenergy taking 55 percent of the shares.

The Malaysian company draws its natural gas supplies from the Bintulu region, one of the world largest LNG production base in east Malaysia. The company boasts an annual LNG output of 23 million tons and supply mainly to countries like Japan and the Republic of Korea.

The terminal for the Shanghai LNG project is located in the Yangshan Deepwater Port, Shanghai International Shipping Center.
(Source: Xinhua )

Malaysians protest free trade pact with U.S

Dozens of placard- waving Malaysians on Monday demanded the suspension of a proposed free trade agreement between Malaysia and the United States, as officials from the two countries began a new round of negotiations.

The activists held a noisy protest outside a luxury hotel in Malaysia's largest city, Kuala Lumpur, where the officials are conducting the third round of talks on the pact that they hope to conclude next year.

Malaysia is the United States' 10th- largest trading partner, with $44 billion in two-way trade in 2005. Officials say that the figure will double by 2010 if the pact is signed.

The deal faces opposition, however.

"U.S. get out!" chanted about 100 protesters, standing side-by-side Monday outside the hotel. They held placards reading, "Don't Trade our Lives" and "Don't Let America Rule Malaysia."

The activists, from a coalition of 35 groups, have a long list of concerns, including the possible loss of jobs and workers' rights, a lack of protection in the agricultural sector and the end of cheap, generic drugs now available to those with HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

In many countries such free trade agreements "are creating more misery than good," said the president of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress and one of the protesters, Syed Shahir. "We are concerned about the future of this country."

Two more rounds of talks are planned before the expected conclusion of the pact by July 2007, after which President George W. Bush will no longer have the authority to negotiate trade deals that require congressional approval.

The protest was far smaller than the 10,000 people promised by the organizers, the Alliance Against the U.S.- Malaysia Free Trade Agreement. They dispersed after about 30 minutes, and the police made no arrests.

In a statement, the coalition called for suspension of all negotiations until a comprehensive cost-benefit study was done in an open and transparent manner.

"We are still very far behind the U.S. in terms of development, constitutional laws and institutions," said Xavier Jayakumar, the chairman of the alliance.

"We need to strengthen our institutions first. We need to get our house in order to be in a position to bargain."

He said the government should divulge the items that are up for discussion, and the concessions it is willing to make to Washington.

U.S. and Malaysian officials did not immediately comment on the protest or give details of the talks.

Mahathir may be dumped as Malaysian advisor: report

Malaysian ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad could be dumped as an advisor to key government-linked companies and agencies if he continues to criticise the government, reports said Monday.

Senior members of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) are expected to discuss Mahathir's roles as adviser to national oil company Petronas, car maker Proton and the Langkawi Development Authority this Thursday.

"Let the UMNO supreme council discuss it first and then it is up to the Prime Minister to decide," Mohamed Khaled Nordin, a member of the powerful policy-making body, was quoted as saying by the Malay-language Utusan Malaysia.

UMNO vice president Muhyiddin Yassin reportedly said it would be awkward for Mahathir to hold the positions given to him by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi while at the same time hurling accusations at the leader.

"It is up to Mahathir to consider it. I don't think the prime minister will ask him to do so because Abdullah is a well-mannered leader and always takes a neutral stance," Muhyiddin was quoted as saying by Malay-language Berita Harian.

Calls for Mahathir to resign were initiated at the weekend by Kedah chief state minister Mahdzir Khalid, a senior UNMO figure, who said the ex-premier's conduct had become an embarrassment.

"If (Mahathir) wants to bash the government, it would only be proper for him to relinquish all these posts and be an independent individual who has nothing to do with the government," Mahdzir reportedly said.

Mahathir has accused his successor of nepotism, corruption and economic mismanagement during a months-long feud, but took his criticism up a notch last week when he said Abdullah was running a police state.

"I'm being told you mustn't criticize the Prime Minister"

TIME's extended interview with Malaysia's former Prime Minister

Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is 81 years old, but he was as combative as ever when he met recently with TIME's Hannah Beech and Baradan Kuppusamy in his plush office in Malaysia's administrative capital, Putrajaya. They spoke of his feud with his hand-picked successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, his legacy, and why the developing world needs a champion. Excerpts:

If historians were to look back at your tenure 50 years from now, how do you think they will define your legacy?

They would have noticed an acceleration in the process of industrialization. Industrialization, of course, did not start with me. The previous prime ministers had the same ideas. But they were unable to push it. When I became prime minister, I found ways and means to accelerate the process. So, I suppose, that period would be identified with me, that period of very rapid growth from the 1980s to the 2000.

The new P.M. has only been in office for a couple years, so it's difficult to talk about his legacy. But when you compare what happened during your tenure and what is happening now, how would you compare the two?

In many ways, he has frankly discarded the policies and strategies we used during my time, claiming that they were not good for the country, particularly what were termed as mega-projects. We used the mega-projects to stimulate the economy. They put a stop to them, and when you put a stop to spending money, you don't generate wealth anymore.

Why do you think the Prime Minister's policies are so different?

Maybe it's because he wants to be different. He doesn't want to be a fair copy of myself. But maybe he's wrongly advised.

When you picked him as your successor, did you expect him to be a carbon copy of yourself?

No, I didn't expect. I expect every Prime Minister to have his own imprint. He wants to be different, he wants to be recognized as being himself and not a copy of somebody else. But when you try to do that, you may do better things or you may do worse things.

And do you think he is doing better or worse things?

I expected a little bit of a slowdown but not a reversal. Maybe the direction would be slightly altered, but having been an agricultural country and converting the agricultural country into an industrialized country, to find that the new government wishes to revert to being an agricultural country is very unsettling. Because we rejected agriculture simply because it was not generating enough wealth, it was not generating enough jobs for our people. And today, of course, we go back to agriculture, despite modern agriculture, despite biotechnology, it's not going to continue growth the way industry contributed.

Looking back on your various anointed successors, it seems as though they all, in some ways or another, disappointed you. Do you think that you might be a bad judge of who makes a good leader?

I think I'm not very good at that. I assume that people would react to things the way I would react. For example, if you are nice to people, they should be nice to you. If somebody is going against you yet you are willing to forget and forgive and give them a place again in the government, they will be very grateful. But I find that the people I helped to reach certain heights are not really grateful. They are actually turned against me.

So you don't think that the P.M. is grateful for what you did?

At least he should have noticed that I actually went out of my way to give him an opportunity.

When you retired in 2003, you said you would not interfere in politics. What made you change your mind?

The decision not to build the bridge to [Singapore]. You see, when we are building the bridge on our side, within our area, no other country has any right to interfere. He is saying we cannot build even on our own side because Singapore might object. Then you are actually saying that you are doing something in our own country will require the consent or approval of Singapore. That means you are surrendering your independence, your sovereignty. That was what annoyed me very much. And about this bridge, it is absolutely essential simply because there is overcrowding down in Johore Bahru and people cannot get around because where the causeway meets the land, there is a huge crowd there, people coming and going to Singapore.

Downstairs in your office, you have a poster listing some of your accomplishments, and most of them are buildings or structures: the Grand Prix track, Petronas Towers, the Multimedia Super Corridor, the North-South super highway, Putrajaya. Is there any element with the suspension of the bridge project of personal hurt, where your legacy of the builder of amazing things for Malaysia is somehow being tampered with?

They keep on mentioning these pet projects of mine. Everything in the last 20 years have been my pet projects, so if you touch anything, it's going to be touching my pet project. It is not because it was pet project. All these things that I caused to be built are actually essential to this country. We need the infrastructure, we need Putrajaya. I mean, imagine what Kuala Lumpur would be like now ... if the government administration were still in Kuala Lumpur. I must admit that when I do things, I think very far ahead, not 10 years, 20 years, [but] 100 years ahead. When we built the airport, Subang was handling 14 million passengers; today the airport is handing more than 20 million passengers, and we built it for 125 million passengers 100 years hence. Because to build an airport, to get land for an airport is very difficult. As the town grows, people object to having an airport close to their back door. On the other hand, they would need the airport. So you have to think ahead. You build Putrajaya, it's not for today. It's for the future. You have to think ahead. If you're planning, planning means looking ahead. How far did you look ahead?

Is the P.M. more afraid of dissent than you were?

He has made UMNO his personal party. They cannot say anything that he doesn't approve of. I'm being told, look, you mustn't criticize the Prime Minister because he is an institution, he is an UMNO president and therefore an institution. Yes, the UMNO president is an institution, but the incumbent is not. When I was there, he challenged me. Now he's not allowing anybody to say a word against him ... What I don't like is creating what would be called a police state. Nobody is allowed to organize any meeting and invite me to speak. If you do, the police call you up.

One of the things that you did consistently during your tenure was to speak out as an unofficial spokesperson for the developing world. Do you anyone else now taking up that role?

This is something I'm very sad about because the Third World has got nobody to stand up for them, to speak for them, simply because they are under obligation, they either owe money to banks or they are receiving aid. We are much more free. We don't owe money, we don't ask for aid, and therefore we are in the position to speak up for them. But if Malaysia gives up that role, I think it would be a very sad day for everyone because now the strong countries will just steam-roll over or just push through everything they want to do, and that is very bad. At the moment, I don't see anyone, I thought that Thaksin [Shinawatra] might. He said he wants to be like me, but he did not, and Suharto is not around. So we have to wait some time for somebody willing to speak up on it. It must be a country that is not dependent upon aid nor dependent upon loans from other countries.

How do you think stronger countries steam-roll over other countries?

Let's take the WTO, they talk all the time about a borderless world, about free access of capital, and their entrepreneurs into all countries. This capital and these big corporations going into small countries are very likely to exploit these countries as happened with the banana republics. So somebody will have to argue it out in the WTO and prevent this from happening ... Today it seems that the tendency is to be associated with the big people. They want to be nice to President Bush, to praise Prime Minister Blair, to be friendly with [John] Howard. These are the people who caused all the trouble so far ... Even if we are very well developed, even if we become a developed country, we should always stand up for the poor people, for the underdog.

What is your view on the efforts of democracy-building in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Democracy must be internally generated. People need to be educated as to the limitations of democracy. If you don't understand democracy, it is not going to work. It is one of the most complex systems. When you bring in everybody to make decisions, literally make decision by using the votes, well, we know, even the right to vote may be abused. You have to understand the limitations of democracy ... You cannot force it from the top. It's not going to work.

How are your memoirs coming along?

Not getting along very well. Because I have to write speeches ... give talks, I'm busy. And being interviewed by the press. A terrible burden.

(and busy critisizing the goverment and attacking his successor?)

Mahathir : Not the Retiring Type

Malaysia's former leader, Mahathir Mohamad, is taking on his successor in a rancorous fight over the future of the nation

The golden spires of Putrajaya, Malaysia's new administrative capital, shimmer in the tropical heat. Below them, manicured lawns and neat villas housing civil servants line the spotless avenues. Barely a blade of grass is out of place in this modern cityscape, which sprung out of a former palm-oil plantation a decade ago courtesy of a single man's vision. But there is one road in Putrajaya that is different. Although the path affords a telescopic view of the onion-domed citadel that is the new prime-ministerial office, this strip of asphalt is mysteriously overgrown with weeds and scrub. No gleaming skyscrapers have taken root here. Only one building stands forlornly at the road's dead end: the office of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the man whose two-decade building spree turned Malaysia into an economic tiger and whose grandiose dream included the construction of Putrajaya itself. The irony for the 81-year-old Mahathir must be overwhelming: Is this really how the story of one of Asia's modernizing forces is to conclude, at the dead end of an unkempt road in the futurist metropolis he created?

Three years ago, the architect of modern Malaysia ended his 22-year rule by handing over power to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, a devoutly Muslim scion of the political élite. Dr. M, as the physician turned strongman is known in Malaysia, promised to exit gracefully—and quietly. For a while, he kept his word. Mahathir put together his personal library—which includes such diverse tomes as Euclid's Elements, Margaret Thatcher's autobiography and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam—and even opened a bakery on the resort island of Langkawi. But by June of this year, Dr. M could no longer hold his famously fiery tongue. Abdullah, he charged, was misguided in canceling several megaprojects the ex-PM had greenlighted, including a $4 billion railway and a proposed bridge to Singapore. Weeks later, Mahathir was hinting that Abdullah should step down, alleging corruption and nepotism within the new administration—albeit without offering proof of any wrongdoing.

On Oct. 22, the pair met for two hours, stoking hopes of reconciliation. No such luck. Last week, Mahathir continued to thunder against his handpicked successor, accusing him of involvement in the U.N.'s tarnished oil-for-food program in Iraq and of creating a "police state" in which Mahathir's criticisms could not be heard. He charged that Abdullah was dismantling his legacy—and Malaysia's future. "I thought that I have done most of the things that will serve us for the next 100 years," Mahathir told TIME at his Putrajaya office. "All that remains is for people to just continue. Don't reverse what has already been done." In a written response to TIME last week, Abdullah countered: "When I became Prime Minister, I encouraged more openness and did not want to muzzle different views. We are a democracy, and it is [Mahathir's] right to speak; he is free to say what he wants ... But it is unfortunate that he is making wild allegations."

Just days before the November general assembly of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the ruling party to which both Mahathir and Abdullah belong, party insiders worry that their ongoing feud could cleave a coalition that has maintained power for five decades. Certainly, Mahathir may be acting out of a wish to protect what he considers his—and Malaysia's—legacy, but the venom of his attacks suggests something more personal. "[Mahathir] wants to bring down Abdullah," claims Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, Abdullah's minister responsible for law and parliamentary affairs, who also served under Mahathir. "He wants to force him to quit. He needs to be told he is no longer Prime Minister. His campaign is not for the sake of the country but for himself."

The tensions highlight the fundamental challenges that Malaysia faces. Since gaining independence in 1957, the former British colony has been transformed from a backwater nation dependent on rubber and tin into an industrialized regional power that is one of the world's largest producers of semiconductors and hard-disk drives. Mahathir's name is synonymous with this remarkable transition. But those glorious growth rates and thrusting skyscrapers came at a cost. To maintain his grip on power and build the monuments that would win Malaysia global recognition—administrative capital Putrajaya; the Petronas Towers, for a time the world's tallest edifices; the Multimedia Super Corridor, an Asian take on Silicon Valley; and Southeast Asia's first Formula One Grand Prix track—Mahathir undermined less flashy but no less important institutions: Parliament, the civil service, the judiciary, the media.

This darker side of Mahathir's legacy is now showing its face. Festering problems like corruption, cronyism and nepotism have contributed to a drop in foreign direct investment in Malaysia—down 14% last year. With alluring alternatives such as China and Vietnam, Malaysia's steady, English-speaking economy can no longer count on its competitive edge. Equally important, despite long-standing efforts to stitch together Malaysia's ethnic patchwork of majority Malays and minority Chinese and Indians, the three groups appear to be growing apart. Abdullah may have come to office with a reputation as a reformer and consensus-builder, but his three-year tenure has so far offered few solutions to these essential problems.

Yet it is precisely how he handles such fissures in the Malaysian economy and society—as well as the debilitating feud with his predecessor—that will dictate the place Malaysia will hold in the new Asia. "We used to believe we were a model for the rest of Asia, because the other countries were unstable or undemocratic or run by the military," says Tian Chua, information chief for the opposition National Justice Party. "But the rest of Asia has caught up and, in some cases, even surpassed us, so we must start looking at all the things we swept under the carpet for so long."

For a man prone to more vertical ambitions, examining the rot under the carpet can't have been foremost in Mahathir's mind. Born in 1925 in a village in Kedah state as the youngest of nine children, Mahathir earned a partial scholarship to study medicine in Singapore. By 1959, he owned one of the fanciest cars in his hometown, a Pontiac Catalina, and had a Chinese chauffeur. (Most other drivers were Malays at the time.) The cultivation of such emblems of power was to become a hallmark of his leadership.

Early on in his tenure, Mahathir stripped Malaysia's monarchy of its royal veto, strengthening the executive branch's authority. When the Supreme Court threatened the legality of UMNO, he arranged for the dismissal of more than half the bench. Mahathir also employed the Internal Security Act, a draconian preventive-detention law, to imprison without charge some of his most vocal opponents. But he used his clout to bring people up, too, handpicking tycoons such as Eric Chia to run state firm Perwaja Steel. And by virtual diktat, he unleashed a building spree of skyscrapers, dams, airports, stadiums. "I think very far ahead, not 10 years, 20 years, [but] 100 years ahead," Mahathir says. "All these things that I caused to be built are actually essential to this country."

The propensity to strike first and explain later backfired in 1998 when Mahathir engineered the downfall of his former deputy Anwar Ibrahim, who had been calling for a corruption cleanup within UMNO. Anwar was subsequently sentenced to 15 years in jail for sodomy and abuse of power, a conviction condemned by human-rights groups. Soon after Anwar was dispatched to prison, Malaysia's main opposition party, the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS), stunned UMNO by capturing control of two states, in part because of its antigraft platform. By the end of Mahathir's reign, even the urban middle class created by his export-driven policies no longer supported him unconditionally. "The good human-capital policies Mahathir put into place were what made a civil society that could think and speak out," says Shahrir Abdul Samad, a member of UMNO's Supreme Council. "But Mahathir couldn't handle what he had created. He understood buildings but not people."

The man Mahathir finally chose to succeed him could not be more different. Abdullah, 66, made his name in UMNO as the quiet, harmony-seeking underdog. Where Mahathir was blunt and uncompromising, Abdullah was soft-spoken and amiable. "Abdullah is not as smart as Mahathir," says longtime Mahathir friend and retired civil servant Shaari Daud. "But unlike Mahathir, he consults the cabinet." Five months after he took over in October 2003, Abdullah surprised even his supporters by winning the largest-ever mandate in Malaysian electoral history. His campaign pledges to distribute wealth more equitably and to root out corruption clearly resonated. Showing independence from his mentor, Abdullah canceled some of Mahathir's more profligate megaprojects. Steel magnate Chia was charged with criminal breach of trust, while the sentence against Anwar was overturned. "[Mahathir] has accused me of not doing anything for the last two years," Abdullah told TIME. "Well, I had to start off by cutting the budget deficit, reprioritize spending and maintain political stability."

Nonetheless, Abdullah has come to be seen as averse to bold action. Many of his anticorruption reforms have stalled and his economic polices haven't revved up growth, which is expected to hover around 5% next year—respectable but hardly stellar. Abdullah's focus on developing Malaysia's agricultural sector, while aimed at reducing poverty, has diverted funds from high-tech industries that had put the country into the global slipstream. "He says all the right things, but at the end of the day, he needs to actually implement the reforms," says Zaid Ibrahim, a leading UMNO parliamentarian. "Where are the concrete results?" Nor has it helped Abdullah's antinepotism campaign that his son Kamaluddin, and son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin, are perceived as too close to the halls of power. Khairy, who is deputy chief of UMNO's powerful youth wing, has been singled out by Mahathir as an undue influence, particularly since he is only 30 years old. "I am a pretty easy scapegoat," says Khairy. "[But] the decisions Dr. Mahathir is unhappy with are entirely made by the Prime Minister and the cabinet."

If Abdullah were still at the crest of his 2004 popularity, Mahathir's sniping might be easier to ignore. But with the public beginning to perceive Abdullah as an ineffectual ditherer, Mahathir's complaints about endemic corruption and a lack of fiscal pump priming have struck a chord—even if some of these problems existed during his rule, too. More important, the war of words between Mahathir and Abdullah may be shifting focus from larger issues that urgently require national debate. "This feud is causing a lot of distraction for us," says son-in-law Khairy. "When it affects your concentration, you cannot get down to doing things."

Chief among these issues is the fate of the New Economic Policy (NEP), an affirmative-action effort initiated by UMNO 35 years ago to try to bring the majority Malays commensurate economic power. Designed to prevent a rerun of the race riots that convulsed Malaysia in 1969, the NEP has helped to create an entire strata of middle-class Malays who can compete with their Chinese and Indian counterparts. Last month, a think-tank suggested the amount of corporate equity held by Malays was far higher than the government estimate of 19%. From Abdullah downward, the government condemned the report as baseless and blamed it for stirring up ethnic sensitivities. The institute retracted the findings, causing the author to resign in protest. Meanwhile, some analysts tie the NEP's complicated racial quotas to declining FDI in Malaysia. There's no question that Malaysia is dividing along ethnic lines: Only 6% of Chinese parents now send their children to Malay-dominated government primary schools, compared to more than 50% three decades ago. "When I was growing up in Malaysia, going to national schools, I never imagined that the country would become so polarized," says Lim Guan Eng, secretary general of the Chinese-majority Democratic Action Party.

Central to the ethnic debate is how religion fits into a country that has historically prided itself on a moderate interpretation of Islam. In 2001, after PAS's shocking victory, Mahathir discarded his usually secular rhetoric and defined Malaysia as an "Islamic state." Abdullah, who holds a degree in Islamic studies, has made "Islam Hadhari," a philosophy of governance based on moderate Muslim tenets, central to his administration. But for a Muslim Malay public that is growing more conservative—the use of headscarves by women has increased dramatically—it's not yet clear whether such formulations will be enough. Mahathir, even with his Chinese chauffeur and Malay-first rhetoric, somehow managed to keep harmony among Malaysia's ethnicities. Abdullah, who recently named a Malaysian Chinese as the nation's top crime fighter, seems to share an inclusive view of Malaysian society. But critics say he has done little to combat the more extreme strains of Islam that are creeping into society—Abdullah, for instance, has supported a strict Sunni interpretation of Islam and has endorsed a "zero-tolerance policy" against anything that deviates from it. Mahathir charges: "There is the perception now that the government is weak, and therefore [conservative Muslims] can now challenge the government."

The former PM's denunciations, of course, contribute to this very sense of weakness within the Abdullah administration. But Mahathir has no intention of quieting down. "The thing about leadership in this country is that survival, not ideals, is paramount," says veteran Malaysian political analyst Chandra Muzaffar. That sentiment applies not only to the man struggling to steer his nation forward—but also to the 81-year-old ex-leader who refuses to let go of the wheel.

(With Times Asia reporting by Baradan Kuppusamy/ Kuala Lumpur and Parvaiz Bukhari/Alor Star )

TIME talks to the Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi

When Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi came to power in 2003, it was as the hand-picked successor to his former boss, Mahathir Mohamad. Since then, Mahathir has become increasingly critical of his protégé, largely over what the former Prime Minister saw as a rollback of many of his key projects. But while Mahathir's attacks have grown increasingly strident, the Prime Minister has until recently declined to respond. Now, in a written reply to questions from TIME, Abdullah discusses Mahathir's accusations:

TIME: Why do you think Mahathir is speaking out publicly now?

Abdullah: You really have to ask him this question. His public criticism began with the cancellation of the bridge to Singapore. That is an issue he has raised again and again, and also during our private meeting recently. Although the government has explained extensively why we cancelled the project, he still is not able to accept the decision while the public have moved on.

What do you think Mahathir is hoping to accomplish by speaking out so strongly?
Is it a personality issue? Is he worried about his legacy? Or something else?

Again, this question is best directed at him. As far as I am concerned, all of his questions and criticisms have been answered either by myself or by members of my administration. Most of his criticism concern government projects and why they did not go as he wanted. I have explained that this government makes decisions based on priorities and realities which may be different to when he was the prime minister.

You didn't really start fighting back until yesterday. Why are you speaking out now? Was it because Mahathir continued to attack even after meeting with you on Sunday?

I would not like to characterize my statements as fighting back. I have already addressed many of the issues he has raised in an interview that was televised nationally during the height of his attacks. My ministers have also replied. What is important for me is to concentrate on the implementation of the recently launched Ninth Malaysia Plan—our national economic blueprint for the next five years. I choose to focus on this, which is an important mission for me.

He has accused me of not doing anything for the last two years. Well, I had to start off by cutting the budget deficit, reprioritize spending and maintain political stability.

What do you think the ramifications of Mahathir's criticisms will be? Will his comments affect the upcoming UMNO general assembly?

Our economy is still robust and on course to meet our targets. Political stability is not threatened and my party is united. His remarks have had little real effect on politics or business in Malaysia and some have said that it is an unwelcome distraction. The assembly will be a good opportunity for me to refocus my party's energy towards our economic and development agenda, especially for the Malay community.

How do you think your leadership style differs from Mahathir's? Why have you undone some of Mahathir's pet policies?

I have said this many times—our broad vision remains the same. We both want Malaysia to be a developed country by 2020. We largely share the same development strategy. But, of course, implementation may differ. For example, apart from manufacturing and construction I have also stressed the need to develop agro-based industries and the services sectors to provide more broad-based development. I would say that I have had to make certain decisions to protect our country's interests. We are facing all kinds of competitive pressures and we need to ensure that our economic priorities are right.

Do you think Mahathir's comments are bad for Malaysia? If so, why?

He is free to say what he wants. We are a democracy and it is his right to speak. When I became Prime Minister, I encouraged more openness and did not want to muzzle different views, so I suppose this is part of that process. But it is unfortunate that he is making wild allegations and that he does not acknowledge that answers have been given. At the end of the day, Malaysia is still well regarded internationally as an advanced Muslim country and as a good investment destination, despite what he says.

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30 October, 2006

Democracy for Muslims

Democracy for Muslims

Former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, a reformer and favorite of Bill Clinton whose political career ended in 1998 when he was imprisoned by Prime Minister Muhathir Mohamed on false charges of corruption, recently spoke at Stanford University. Addressing Americans’ perception of Islam he said:

This is a country full of contradictions. The level of sophistication and intellectual flavor is unparalleled. So why must people be so prejudiced? Why is misunderstanding so pervasive? To say that Muslims are entirely anti-America is wrong.

The increasing sectarian conflict in Iraq and the rise of Islamist parties like Hamas and Hezbollah have put American efforts to democratize the Middle East on hold and raised doubts among experts and policy makers about whether democracy is compatible with the Muslim faith. But in a campus appearance yesterday afternoon, former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim offered an ardent defense of democracy in the Muslim world, telling a standing-room-only crowd in Bechtel Conference Center that “men and women are born free, even in the Islamic construct.”

Alternating between serious and sporting through his two-hour speech, Ibrahim broached many of the issues aggravating relations between Islam and the West, including gender relations, American foreign policy, cultural assimilation in Europe and Pope Benedict XVI’s recent comments about Islam. However, he was most outspoken regarding his home country — he was a political prisoner in Malaysia for over four years — and rejected the race- and religious-based affirmative action policies that benefit the Malay majority there.

Returning repeatedly to the topic of Muslim democracy, Ibrahim drew from historical references and personal experiences, citing the democratic regimes of Indonesia and Iran of 1950s.

“There was no debate then whether democracy was compatible with Islam,” he said. “Fifty years later, we have our leaders in the Muslim world telling us we’re not ready.”

The fundamental nature of democracy and human rights is universal, Ibrahim emphasized, adding that problems begin with cultural miscommunication.

“We have to debunk and reject the notion, held by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, that to support democracy and freedom is to support America,” he said. “And it is important for Americans to realize democracy is a value cherished as much by Muslims as it is by Americans.

“Misperceptions are unfortunate,” he added, elaborating on his impressions of American culture. “This is a country full of contradictions. The level of sophistication and intellectual flavor is unparalleled. So why must people be so prejudiced? Why is misunderstanding so pervasive? To say that Muslims are entirely anti-America is wrong.”

Ibrahim offered scathing criticism of his fellow Muslims for violent reactions to both the publication of caricatures of Mohammad in a Danish newspaper in 2005 and to the more recent comment by Pope Benedict XVI referring to elements of Islam as “evil and inhuman.” The cartoon spawned riots killing 139 in Nigeria, Libya, Pakistan and Afghanistan, while the Pope’s remarks fueled a maelstrom of controversy, including the firebombing of Catholic churches throughout the Middle East and the shooting death of a nun in Somalia.

“There is a right to disagree but no one has the right to cause destruction or destroy life,” he said. “No one has the right to call for the banning of newspapers.”

Acknowledging that his comments were not necessarily indicative of Islamic public opinion, he said, “This view may not be shared by all Muslims, but I am prepared to confront them.”

Ibrahim’s penchant for speaking his mind and sticking to his principles has dogged the leader through a career of controversy. As a young Malaysian activist in the 1970s, he was arrested during a student protest and spent 20 months in a detention camp. Following a meteoric political ascent, he was named Deputy Prime Minister in 1993, and many expected that he was Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammad’s chosen successor.

But their relationship turned sour, and in Sept. 1998 Ibrahim was stripped of party membership and incarcerated under charges of corruption and sodomy. The charges were eventually overturned and he was released in Sept. 2004.

Regarding Malaysian politics today, Ibrahim expressed distaste toward his nation’s system of bumiputera — a system of economic and social policies designed to favor ethnic Malays.

“I reject affirmative action based on race,” he said. “Our policies should benefit the poor and the marginalized.”

Finally, he described the need for engagement between the Islamic world and the West, criticizing the “extreme” foreign policy of the United States and its refusal to negotiate with regimes like Hamas.

“That policy is flawed,” he said, adding that “to refuse to engage is a recipe for disaster.”

Ibrahim’s talk was one in a series of lectures sponsored by the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) addressing relationships with non-Western cultures.

“There’s not a topic that I think we need to pay more attention to as a country, and there’s also not a topic that we’re more ignorant about today,” CDDRL Director Michael McFaul said while introducing Ibrahim.

Stanford’s new $4.3 billion capital campaign seeks $1.4 billion for multidisciplinary initiatives, including an International Initiative aimed at making the University a hub for global problem-solving. Issues pertaining to Islam and the West, McFaul said, will be primary concerns.

“We don’t have enough faculty to on campus to discuss these issues,” he told The Daily after the event. “Speakers like this are great to fill in the gaps. Hopefully, 10 years from now we’ll have dozens of faculty that can speak to [these concerns].”

Govt Should Give Rational Explanation To Dr M's Allegations, Says Anwar

The government should give a rational explanation to refute the allegations raised by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his spat with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said Sunday.

He said the government should confine itself to answering the allegations pertaining to the issues and policies raised by Dr Mahathir and not resort to any deviation.

"It is not in my interest to get involved in these two people's feud but there are allegations that involve policies which are serious as... (they come from)... a prime minister of 22 years. This matter should be discussed and deliberated (by the current administration).

"(It is) no point for the government to be in a state of denial but give satisfactory answers," he told reporters at the Hari Raya Aidilfitri open house at his residence in Bukit Damansara, here.

Anwar, who is Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) advisor, was asked for his views on the current spat between Abdullah and Dr Mahathir, particularly after their four-eyed meeting last Sunday.

He said Dr Mahathir, as a citizen, has every right to criticise the current administration and this warranted some detailed explanation from the current administration, particularly on allegations pertaining to issues and policies.

"We may not be in agreement with Tun (Dr Mahathir). I do not agree that we should belittle (anyone). I do not believe the solution is in being merciless towards him (Dr Mahathir). I respect the right of Dr Mahathir (to criticise). If there is basis to the statements, the government has to reply," he said.

Anwar said the current administration's replies to Dr Mahathir's allegations were not convincing as "several leaders were merely saying Dr Mahathir should not have criticised the prime minister".

Asked if the spat between Abdullah and Dr Mahathir would end soon, Anwar said: "I see no way that it is going to be resolved very soon".

"The former prime minister has taken a strong position. The issues are not just a matter of a few policies but a major devastating critique at the administration," he said.

Last Sunday, Dr Mahathir met Abdullah at Seri Perdana, the official residence of the prime minister, in Putrajaya and they spoke for about two hours on the issues raised by Dr Mahathir.

Soon after the meeting, Dr Mahathir revealed that although he was satisfied with the meeting, he was not happy with the response he got from Abdullah.

Last Thursday, Abdullah described as "doses of venom" the remark by Dr Mahathir that he would continue criticising the government.

Abdullah said he hoped that Dr Mahathir would wait for his explanation to the issues he has raised, but added that before he could explain the former prime minister had launched renewed attacks on him and the government.

Malaysia's explosive political feud damaging PM and Mahathir: analysts

An ugly feud between former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad and his successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is damaging both men and creating uncertainty in Malaysia's political scene, analysts say.

The pair have rowed for most of this year, but the gloves came off last week after highly anticipated "peace talks" aimed at ironing out their differences failed in spectacular fashion, triggering heightened attacks from both sides.

Mahathir said Abdullah was running a "police state", and renewed accusations of nepotism, corruption and economic mismanagement against the administration which he complains is dismantling his legacy built up over two decades in power.

Abdullah abandoned his previously restrained approach, retorting that the 82-year-old was spitting "stronger doses of venom" and noting that Mahathir's own sons had profited substantially during his time in power.

In an open letter to Malaysians, circulated over the Internet, Mahathir then warned that a "climate of fear" had enveloped the country thanks to Abdullah, his hand-picked successor who was installed in the top job in 2003.

As Malaysians follow the row with rapt attention, analysts say that some of the mud is sticking on Abdullah, whose lustre has already dimmed with a disappointing performance since his landslide election victory in 2004.

"In Malaysian politics, the perception is important. It's not so much if it's absolutely true, especially when the allegations are made by a former prime minister," political commentator James Wong Wing On told AFP.

Maznah Mohamad, a senior research fellow with the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore, said that Mahathir -- a shrewd strategist -- was reflecting popular discontent with the new premier.

"The ultimate objective of Tun Mahathir is to bring down Abdullah Badawi. I don't think he will stop before that happens," she said.

Amidst Mahathir's slew of allegations, "people will pick and choose and agree with him," she said.

The prolonged row is contributing to a sense of drift amid concerns Malaysia's economy is slowing down and grumbles that Abdullah has not lived up to election promises such as tackling corruption, said Maznah.

"What Mahathir says, it does resonate generally because there is no feel-good factor any more."

But the fallout isn't landing on Abdullah alone.

Mahathir's attack, including its timing in the midst of Muslim Eid al-Fitr celebrations when forgiveness is supposed to be the order of the day, has alarmed Malaysians and infuriated the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

"People feel now that it is very, very uncharitable of Mahathir before Hari Raya to do this," said veteran UMNO watcher and anthropology professor at the National University of Malaya, Shamsul Amri Baharuddin.

"The premeditatedness of Mahathir is actually making people very unhappy. That he is all out to do some damage, he is not constructive at all and is informed by personal interests, not national interests," he said.

Analysts also said that Malaysians detect a whiff of hypocrisy in Mahathir's claims of corruption against Abdullah, and his complaints that he is being gagged by the ruling party and the media.

"The general perspective is that he is criticising the very same thing he created in the 22 years he was in power, like the police state, so he is actually saying everything about himself, rather than Abdullah," said Shamsul.

Abdullah has said that the feud can only help the opposition, which was trounced at the last elections, but few commentators expect the row to produce serious political instability.

"It will increase the chances of the opposition of getting more support and more seats in the coming election, although a change of government is still unlikely," said Wong of the next ballot due to be held by 2009.

It's serious when the Selangor Sultan has to step in

Comment by Wong Chun Wai - The Star

WHEN Datuk Zakaria Md Deros walked into the Bilik Mengadap, the audience room of the Istana Bukit Kayangan, for his meeting with the Sultan of Selangor, he must have noticed the newspaper clippings spread on a table.

They were all about the controversial Port Klang assemblyman and Klang municipal councillor who had built his four-storey mansion without council approval.

Others included his failure to pay assessment for his current house for 12 years as well as the non-payment of assessment of the Port Klang Umno office and the Kampung Idaman Umno branch buildings for at least 10 years.

Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah had read other documents, letters and reports from investigations by the palace staff.

He also wanted to know how the DZ Satay Restaurant belonging to Zakaria was sitting on government land. Again, with no council approval.

The royal reprimand to the Klang strongman was simple – quit as a councillor, pay up your assessment, submit approvals for buildings and behave yourself or risk having your Datukship revoked.

The Ruler had another advice – bersopan santun and berbudi bahasa (be polite and courteous) - in an apparent reference to complaints that Zakaria was rude and arrogant.

Zakaria’s immediate boss – Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo - followed up with a deadline for him to quit by Nov 8.

So far, the cigar-chomping politician has not responded but the likelihood is that he would give up his council post.

His case is made complicated by the fact that his son, Zainuri, and daughter-in-law, Roselinda Abdul Jamil, had also been nominated as councillors.

For sure, the former railway gatekeeper and office boy isn’t going to lose his political clout in Klang.

No Umno councillors contacted by the press were prepared to respond to the advice given to Zakaria for fear that they would offend him. His reputation certainly precedes him.

But despite his political connection, his backers may now find it difficult to defend him as much as they want to.

The fact is Zakaria has become a political liability, not just to Umno but the Barisan Nasional. Certainly, there is no shortage of local politicians in Klang who are prepared and even more qualified to fill in his shoes.

Zakaria is no stranger to controversies.

In 2000, he allegedly slapped Bandar Klang assemblyman Teng Chang Kim at the state assembly building. A heated argument had broken out during coffee break between the two, when Zakaria voiced dissatisfaction over the use of the word haram with regards to factories squatting on agriculture land.

The issue was subsequently settled amicably in front of the Mentri Besar with both assemblymen advised to respect the House.

In 2001, Zakaria was among 13 Umno members who were found guilty by the Umno disciplinary board for breaching party ethics during the party polls. He was issued with a warning.

On the local level, the people of Klang still cannot forget how a group of councillors, including Zakaria, backed a RM10.4mil project, which has now been scrapped following public protests.

The plan called for 1.2ha of a 10.3ha field to be developed into a complex with three to five storey buildings housing 60 units of offices and shop lots. Twenty per cent of these lots were reported to be given to the Klang Municipal Council (MPK).

If Dr Khir had not stopped the project, it would have meant the loss of another public park.

Zakaria backed the project at a meeting, ironically saying it would “enliven the area and increase revenue for the council in the form of assessment.”

The strongest objection came from Datuk Teh Kim Poh, the Pandamaran assemblyman.

What was more frightening were the reports that Teh’s protests against the project at a council meeting were not recorded.

There have been many allegations of how the minutes were purportedly altered since then.

But the Selangor state government should sit up and listen to the grievances of the people of Klang. Any visitor to this town can tell that the MPK has not maintained it well.

The crime rate in Klang has long been a problem with shopkeepers putting up grilles on their premises.

The royal town needs good elected representatives and municipal councillors, who care about making Klang a better place to live in.

Zakaria’s political fate is now in the balance. He would be scrutinised more than ever from now.

As Dr Khir said, everyone makes mistakes and they should be given a chance.

Zakaria’s contributions to Klang should not be ignored and certainly, he has erred but that doesn’t mean he cannot be forgiven.

He must be prepared to repent and not blame what has taken place on rival politicians or the media, like some would do.

His immediate tasks would be to resolve the many complaints that have been stacked up against him. Zakaria is already being investigated by the Anti-Corruption Agency for abuse of power.

In fact, ordinary Malaysians are asking why many politicians, in general, are able to live in huge mansions with lifestyles only corporate figures can match.

It has been reported that other Klang councillors also have similar “palaces” with no approvals and they have ignored the MPK because “others are also doing so.”

The Zakaria Md Deros case is no longer a local case but has gained national attention because ordinary Malaysians can no longer stomach such abuses.

They do not want to see civil servants and the people being bullied and intimidated by powerful “war lords” while some politicians prefer to “close one eye” for political expediency.

In this case, the apparent lack of strong political will at state level has led to the intervention of Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah.

The “Ugly Malay” Becoming the Norm

In summoning Klang Municipal Councilor Zakaria Mat Deros to the palace over the issue of the illegal building of his private mansion, the Sultan of Selangor did the right thing but to the wrong person. The Sultan should have summoned the state’s chief executive, Chief Minister Khir Toyo, instead.

The sultan should demand from Toyo what and when he knew of the affair, whether he believed it was an aberrant incident or part of a more extensive pattern, and what he intended to do about it.

Rest assured that such flagrant flaunting of the law reflects long established behaviors that has been tolerated if not encouraged by the authorities. It also mirrors the Third World mentality of being above the law that is so prevalent among our leaders.

Being only the symbolic head of state, there is not much more that the sultan can do except merely express his displeasure. Were he to go beyond that, he would risk setting a dangerous precedent and raising significant constitutional issues, quite part from sidetracking the matter.

There is one act that is well within and sole prerogative of the sultan. He could strip Zakaria of his datukship, assuming of course that the sultan awarded the honor in the first place. As Malays are still very much a feudal bunch, that would carry significant shame. That such a slimy character was so honored to begin with says much about the current state of Malaysian, in particular Malay, society. That however merits a separate discussion!

Curiously “Uncurious” Khir Toyo

That such a huge mansion could have been built to near completion right in the center of a highly visible part of town is indicative of the sorry state of Malaysian institutions, in this particular case, the Klang Town Council.

There are hosts of other associated questions. That he managed to secure a prime real estate from the council for way below market price should interest the chief minister and the Anti Corruption Agency. It would also be very revealing to trace who authorized the non-competitive sale of that valuable public property.

Of even greater interest is how this previously poor, ill-educated villager could acquire so much wealth so quickly so as to be able to afford the mansion. I am certain that if some enterprising journalists were to demand to see the cancelled checks from Zakaria or copies of the bills from the contractors and vendors for the work done, there would be none. This again reflects the pervasive corruption.

The remarkable aspect to the whole shenanigan is the curiously “uncurious” Khir Toyo. As the state’s chief executive, I would have expected him to be demanding answers from the Council officials. Alas we now have the sultan having to take that highly unusual initiative.

This dentist-turned politician of humble beginnings has absorbed only too well the Sultan Syndrome, enjoying the trappings of his office but is otherwise clueless about being an effective executive.

The sultan should strip Khir Toyo of his datukship for his incompetence. That would be a powerful symbolic gesture. The sultan would effectively be challenging the prime minister to get rid of this joker. Khir Toyo is obviously fit only to fill in dental cavities, not the chief executive suite.

Lack of Outrage

Equally shocking is the lack of public outrage, especially in the Malay community, in particular, its establishment. Malay commentators and intellectuals showed no interest, much less expressed their abhorrence. This Zakaria mess (and many more yet to be revealed) is far more destructive and corrosive to the fabric of our society than the current wildly publicized tiff between Abdullah and Mahathir.

I can appreciate the reticence of non-Malays to this Zakaria scandal. For one, there is always the fear of being branded as anti-Malay, a particularly damaging accusation. For another, they could be just as guilty in tolerating as well as participating and thus encouraging such corrupt practices. One wonders how many of the contractors working on that mansion also have simultaneous government contracts and at what inflated prices.

For Malays however, the damage is considerable. We are sending precisely the wrong message to our people. That is, in order to succeed or afford a mansion and other trappings of the “good life,” we do not have to study diligently or work hard but merely ingratiate ourselves to the powerful in order to hog our own little spot at the public trough.

The message we send to non-Malays is equally destructive. That is, we Malays are a race of rogues. We tolerate such nonsense because we harbor our own secret ambition to be like them. This more than anything is what makes me mad and angry with these scoundrels.

By Aristotle’s Nichomechean ethics, it is not enough to be angry. That is the easy part. We have to be angry at the right people, at the right time, for the right purpose, and express that anger in the right way. Slimy characters like Zakaria and his superior Khir Toyo make it easy. We cannot be angry enough at their types. We must totally abhor them. They bring dishonor to our race and nation.

Let me assure non-Malays that the Zakaria Mat Deroses and Khir Toyos are not representative of my race, at least not yet. These “ugly Malays,” to borrow Syed Hussein’s phrase, are fast becoming and will be the norm if we do nothing, by in effect tolerating them. We do have our share of the hard working, the honest, and the frugal. Yes, we are fast shrinking, that we sadly agree.

It is in the interest of all, Malays and non-Malays alike, not to tolerate such sinister and shady characters. Unchecked, they would soon spread to all Malaysians.

The Sultan of Selangor has conveyed his displeasure. He has no wish to be the Sultan of the “Ugly Malays.” It is up to us to pick up on that signal, amplify and transmit it widely. Such slimes are a blemish on and have no place in our society. They are not to be tolerated. We do not have to wait till the elections to demonstrate our collective repugnance.

(By:M Bakri Musa)


Malaysian tourists find Kashmir beautiful than Switzerland ?

A group of 43 tourists from Malaysia has found Kashmir much more beautiful and fascinating than Switzerland.

Interacting with Tourism Minister Mohammad Dilawar Mir here, group leader of Malaysian tourists, A Baharuddin, told him that another batch of 78 tourists from his country would arrive here on November 29 to enjoy the winter tourism in Kashmir.

This was the sixth group of Malaysian tourists who visited the Kashmir valley so far this year.

The tourists said they were very impressed by the hospitality of Kashmiris and mesmerized by the enchanting beauty of the valley.

They vowed to act as ambassadors for promotion of Kashmir tourism in their country. ''We will tell and motivate our fellow countrymen that Kashmir is very calm, soothing and peaceful and offers much more entertainment than Switzerland,'' the tourists said.

Mr Baharuddin also informed that about 20,000 CDs on Kashmir tourism would be distributed free of cost in Malaysia to attract tourists to the Valley.


29 October, 2006

British Deputy PM in Malaysia to Learn About Religious Co-Existence

British Deputy PM in Malaysia to Learn About Religious Co-Existence

By VOA News

British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is visiting Malaysia to learn about its approach to peaceful co-existence between communities of different religions.

In a letter published Saturday in a Malaysian newspaper, Prescott praises the country for becoming "a successful multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural society in a rapidly changing world."

Malaysia is a mainly Muslim country that is 60 percent ethnic Malay, but also is about 25 percent Chinese and eight percent Indian, with large numbers of Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Taoists.

Prescott says there is a lot of discussion in Britain about how to create harmony amid increasing disputes between the Muslim community and the rest of the country. In a recent controversy, some British politicians criticized Muslim women who wear veils.

The deputy British leader says the answer to such disputes is to have an open and respectful debate and to be sensitive to differences that arise from religious beliefs.

Prescott is visiting the Islamic Art Museum in Kuala Lumpur Sunday for a dialogue session with Muslim scholars. He will have talks with Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak Monday

Go ahead and criticise me, says Abdullah

Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has never been free of criticism.

The prime minister has been criticised in Cabinet meetings, the Umno supreme council and Barisan Nasional meetings.

This was because they sometimes held views that differed from the prime minister’s.

But Abdullah said yesterday that such differences of opinion were resolved through consensus.

"We discuss and express our views before reaching an agreement.

"When a decision is made, it’s a collective decision. That makes it easier for us to implement... This is my way," he said at the state Hari Raya Aidilfitri open house at the Melaka International Trade Centre in Ayer Keroh yesterday.

"If anyone wants to criticise me, go ahead," he said in commenting on a statement yesterday by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad that he was criticising Abdullah as no one else was able to do so.

Dr Mahathir had claimed that Cabinet members and others holding government and party posts were not allowed to criticise Abdullah.

He had also alleged that the media was muzzled in the matter while the Internet and websites were bugged to enable action to be taken against those who criticised the prime minister.

On his two-hour meeting with his predecessor on Sunday, he said he had maintained silence during the first 1½ hour as he wanted to give Dr Mahathir a chance to express his feelings on the administration of the government and his leadership.

"I wanted to reply but I didn’t want to interrupt because eventually he would say that I’m wrong. So I waited for him to stop talking before commenting one by one on the issues ranging from the police state, Umno, family interference and the economy and finally on the crooked bridge.

"I was satisfied that Tun had expressed himself. However, I am slightly disappointed as I had many things to say and to reply to what Tun had expressed but I had to stop because of the limited time."

Abdullah also touched on the fifth annual Reporters Without Borders worldwide Press freedom index, which indicated that the freedom of Press in Malaysia was better compared with several Asean countries, including Singapore and Thailand.

"This is the view of outsiders who are constantly assessing us in terms of competitiveness, quality, human rights and Press freedom."

It was reported in the media yesterday, that Malaysia ranked 92 in a poll carried out in 158 countries on Press freedom. Malaysia was ranked 113th last year.

Earlier, Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam said the country, its leaders and people were happy that Dr Mahathir and Abdullah had met to resolve various issues but unhappy with the outcome.

"We were all hoping that things would have been different with Tun during this auspicious month. Our hopes were high that he would have a change of heart and together we could work towards developing the nation.

"But it looks as if Tun has let us all down. We know how it feels like for Abdullah and we share his sentiments and promise to support him in his endeavours for the nation’s good."

Euphoria of hope fizzles out
By Joceline Tan (The Star)

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s gleaming black Mercedes-Benz glided out of the Prime Minister’s official residence a little after 5pm.

Dr Mahathir had arrived and left on the dot, leaving the media who had been milling about since early afternoon empty-handed.

As such, it was a very hungry media, desperate for news about the highly anticipated meeting between Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Dr Mahathir, that decided to head for his Mines Resort City home about 20 minutes drive from Putrajaya.

They got through the security at the gate with surprisingly little fuss and even managed to park their cars near the porch, next to a posh Bentley.

They were even more surprised when the former premier agreed to see them although he was due at his eldest son Datuk Mirzan’s house for buka puasa.

It had been a long day and his voice was soft and a little hoarse but he answered most of their queries. It was not a very long interview and reporters were still popping questions as his other two sons Datuk Mokhzani and Datuk Mukhriz ushered him to the car after about 30 minutes.

But what an impact it made when aired over primetime news that night on the main TV channels.

It was not only what he said but the way he said it that suggested the meeting had not had the desired consequence, at least as far as Dr Mahathir was concerned.

Bera MP Datuk Ismail Sabri remembered feeling rather stunned on hearing the news.

“When they agreed to meet we thought, good, they really want to settle the whole thing. But after the meeting he is still attacking Pak Lah. I’m really disappointed, I think my friends in Umno feel the same,” said Ismail.

The following day, Dr Mahathir held a packed press conference in the inner courtyard of his house where, responding to questions, he elaborated on what he said the day before plus a few well-aimed opinion statements.

By then, it was crystal clear that the meeting had not changed his stance about anything. He seemed no less frustrated about the issues he had been talking about nor did he seem anywhere close to appeasement.

Dr Mahathir was still on the warpath. Dr Mahathir’s second son, Mokhzani, has made a loyal effort to defend his father in the face of criticism.

“My father saw the meeting as an opportunity to state the facts without adulteration. What he said on Monday was what he said during the meeting. It’s not fair to say that Tun has renewed his attacks on Pak Lah,” said Mokhzani.

But the point is that Dr Mahathir’s indomitable spirit ruled the day and there was quite little that anyone, his sons included, could do to dilute his mood.

Some have been blunt, calling the meeting a flop, even a disaster.

Others remained optimistic, saying that, “Dr Mahathir will be Dr Mahathir,” and that things could still work out between them.

But mostly, people felt let down by Dr Mahathir’s tell-all about the meeting.

They thought it did not reflect the spirit in which the meeting was arranged, that the senior man had been too exacting, even disparaging. They felt the senior man could have exercised some restraint in the spirit of Ramadan and Aidilfitri.

Besides, as Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar pointed out, the underlying principle of a four-eyed meeting is confidentiality and discretion.

“There’s been so much negative comment which I think is a great pity after what he has done for the country. It should not have come to this,” said Syed Hamid for whom some of the issues raised by Dr Mahathir have struck close to home.

Also, the fact that Dr Mahathir had walked in with a tape recorder was hint of the lack of trust and confidence about how the meeting was going to turn out.

Many, especially Umno members, had hoped that Sunday's face-to-face would lead to further meetings.

But the prospect of another meeting seems rather remote, as things stand now.

The Prime Minister has described his predecessor's post-meeting criticism as “stronger doses of venom” and was clearly riled that Dr Mahathir had chosen to go public without waiting for his response.

Going by the point-blank manner with which he rebutted some of the offensives, it looks like Abdullah may have come to the end of his tether or, as his friend Tun Musa Hitam would say, the end of his elegant silence.

According to Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Azalina Othman Said: “No one likes to negotiate or budge under pressure. You can’t have someone dictating to the sitting PM. He will listen but he can’t do everything you say.

“That is not the way to deal with Pak Lah. He may seem soft but he’s hard to budge when he believes he is on the right lane. Most of all, you’ve to remember he is a man of faith.”

But more stunning was the statement by the Johor Sultan on the first day of Hari Raya. After prayers on Tuesday, the Tuanku told those congregated that Dr Mahathir should not interfere in the government and asked Johoreans to rally behind Abdullah.

It was a brief but momentous royal remark. After all, the aborted Johor-Singapore bridge was a central issue in Dr Mahathir’s offensive against the Abdullah administration.

Since then Dr Mahathir has stepped up the tempo, claiming that the police were harassing his family members and that there was a climate of fear in the country.

The former premier, an Umno official noted, is pushing the Government against the wall.

“Dr Mahathir wants things done his way and he will only rest if Pak Lah follows his instructions,” said Umno supreme council member Datuk Shahrir Samad. He said there was no need debate Dr Mahathir, much less dance to his tune.

“However, the PM has to make sure that his policies are implemented and deliver on his promises. He has to think about the hopes of the people and the changes they expect him to make. He has to correct mistakes and do it fast.

“He also has to keep tabs on the mentris besar and ministers so that they carry out his policies of transparency, improving human capital, public delivery system and so on. If they don’t perform, he has to change them. The faster he gets his team going in the right direction the better.

“I’m glad he’s beginning to use and involve the Umno political bureaus. Issues involving his family also have to be addressed. I believe he has the courage to act on complaints about his family and to draw the line between family and Government. That will win him immense respect and boost his image,” said Shahrir.

The point that Shahrir, who is also Johor Baru MP, is trying to make is that the endurance of Abdullah’s administration does not depend on submitting to all of Dr Mahatir’s demands but it lies in fulfilling the people’s expectations.

“Ultimately, what’s important is how successful we are in addressing the demands and dissatisfactions of our constituency. When the constituents are contented, Dr Mahathir’s attacks will grow irrelevant,” said Shahrir.

But what now between the present and the ex-prime minister?

The Mubarak group that mooted last week’s meeting has not abandoned hope of bringing them together again despite the bitter exchange of words.

“We are not giving up so easily, we want to organise more meetings. But we appeal to Dr Mahathir to be less confrontational. Some of the issues take time to resolve and he should give some time to the PM,” said Kelantan Mubarak head Datuk Rozali Isohak.

Rubbishing a 'sampah' statement
(Rafidah Abdullah-The Sun)

What is 'sampah'?

Sampah is Malay for rubbish, garbage, things to be thrown away. According to the Kamus Dewan, sampah also means something or someone that is useless or of no value.

And why're we talking about 'sampah'?

This word has cropped up quite a bit lately, largely in relation to the infamous Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute's Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) report titled Corporate Equity Distribution: Past Trends and Future Policy. The report asserted that bumiputra-owned equity in Malaysia could be as high as 45%, far exceeding the government's target of 30%.

Immediately, there was uproar among Umno politicians, condemning the report as "inaccurate" and, yes, sampah. There were accusations of a hidden agenda behind the report; some claimed that the report was intended to "incite anger" and "confuse the Malays".

Under pressure to retract the report and "admit" its flaws, CPPS director Dr Lim Teck Ghee resigned on principle. The whole debacle made news headlines for weeks.

But anyway, back to sampah. In the midst of the brouhaha, the report was not the only thing to be given that auspicious title. When interviewed about the CPPS report (Mingguan Malaysia, Oct 8), Umno vice-president and Minister of Agriculture Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was asked this question: If the Malays are no longer assisted, what would happen in the future?

His answer? Melayu akan jadi 'sampah' dalam masyarakat.

I take it you are not happy with that response?

I am absolutely livid! How insulting is that statement? Is he saying that the Malays are so weak that they could not possibly survive without the government's help? Conversely, is he not implying that other races are superior, because they can succeed without help no matter what their circumstances? Can we Malays then blame them if they look down on us as weak and dependent?

It is because of this mentality that I have lived my life in constant irritation.

Let me get one thing straight - my parents were not born with silver spoons in their mouths. One of my grandfathers was a policeman and the other, a fisherman. Neither had a high education. Yet my parents rose above their circumstances by the time-tested method of working hard. Fast forward to me finishing secondary school and asking my dad to sign loan/scholarship application papers for my university education. My dad flatly refused, saying: "We can afford it. Let the money go to people who need it."

I remember being annoyed with him, knowing full well that there are Datuks and Tan Sris whose children are educated on public funds. Yet, looking back now, I can appreciate his wisdom and it is a source of pride to me that I never took the government's money.

I'm sorry, how is that living life in constant irritation?

I'm getting to that! So, I entered Universiti Malaya, funded by my parents. For the most part, this fact was of no consequence, except for the resigned and sometimes snide remarks that came from some of my fellow students who were non-Malay. They seemed to think that Malays had it easy, and it was no wonder that I had parents who could afford to pay for my education - after all, the Malays received so much help!

This was, for me, a surprise and an eye-opener. All this while, I had been socially conditioned to think that the Chinese were the loaded ones, but for the first time I was meeting Chinese who were poor, struggling, and under the impression that Malays were the ones with money!

And I soon discovered that this was not the only misconception they had about Malays. They were also surprised to

discover that I entered the university with Form Six qualification. But why? they asked. Form Six is tough; it's for people who have no other choice. You are Malay, why didn't you take the matriculation course or a diploma in ITM?

I didn't know how to answer. I had never thought about it. Wasn't Form Six the natural progression from Form Five?

Not satisfied, they asked me about my STPM results. They were completely convinced that, by virtue of the quota system which required far less of Malays than of other races, I had managed to get into the prestigious law faculty by the barest minimum. I told them my results. Seventy-six out of 80 points, which qualified me quite comfortably regardless of skin colour. They were awed. "Wow," they said, "You're really smart for a Malay."

For a Malay.

That remark annoyed me at that time, yet, not nearly as much as the minister's sampah comment annoys me now. Can I really blame a bunch of non-Malay students for having such views when one of our own leaders seems to have no faith in the ability of the Malays?

So are you saying that the government should stop giving help to the Malays?

That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that ALL poor people, regardless of ethnicity, should be helped, not only because this will avoid resentment, not only because it's the right thing to do, but also because I pay taxes and I should be allowed to express my opinion on how to spend the money.

But the bigger part of what I'm saying is that it is irresponsible of the minister to make such a statement because it conditions the Malays to think that if they don't receive government help, they will amount to nothing. It conditions the Malays to think that on a level playing field, they will surely lose. Even the best athletes, if conditioned to rely on a

particular product, will become mentally vulnerable regardless of their true capabilities.

Surely the minister realises all this. What then is his motive in making such a sampah statement?

Dr M's Criticism Of PM Akin To His Own Era, Says Zam

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 28 (Bernama) -- Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's criticism of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is akin to criticising his own era, including from the aspect of "Malays forget easily", says Information Minister Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin.

"Dr Mahathir has forgotten or had purposely chose to forget his ways in implementing freedom of the press, in politics and economy when he was the prime minister.

"It cannot be denied that his success in practising democracy had shown firmness and authoritativeness. Although he allowed freedom of expression and forgived his friends who were his political foes, in the process of enhancing his power, he has built his own era which made him not only to be respected but also feared," he told reporters.

Zainuddin said the former prime minister might not have realised this when he was the prime minister but it was very much felt by the people who dealt with him then, especially cabinet ministers.

"What Dr Mahathir is doing now to Pak Lah (Abdullah) is the same as what Tunku Abdul Rahman (Putra Al-Haj) (Malaysia's first prime minister) did to him (Dr Mahathir) to the extent that Tunku supported the Opposition and Tunku was used by the Opposition in the elections...only the ways are different.

"Tunku was more diplomatic but Dr Mahathir is more aggressive," he added.

Datuk Joseph Salang said "Criticism On Pak Lah No Impact On M'sia's Image Abroad"

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's persistent criticism of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's leadership has no impact on Malaysia's image overseas, says Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Joseph Salang.

He said neither it had any bearing on Malaysia's ties with other countries.

Salang said leaders of countries whom he had met so far are not worried over the misunderstanding between the two leaders.

"To them the spat between the two are personal matters," he told reporters after attending a dinner to raise funds to renovate and extend the St John's Anglican Church here last night.

Salang said: "This is the Foreign Ministry's view. As far as the leaders are concerned Abdullah's position as prime minister is not threatened since he has been duly elected and won the last general election with overwhelming majority."

In fact, many foreign leaders praised Malaysia for its political stability, he said.

Also, foreign investors did not feel insecure over the latest development in the country, he said.

"Nevertheless, the sooner the spat can be resolved between the two leaders, the better it is for the country in a lot of ways.

"It is among Malaysians that the criticisms are evoking all kinds of thoughts and reactions.

"But we must remember they need to stop as we all need to focus on our unity, energy and resources to successfully implement the Ninth Malaysia Plan and equally important to achieve the Vision 2020 goals," he said.


After the UN-imposed sanctions Cracks in the anti-Pyongyang front

South Korea in contrast has been reluctant to give up its “sunshine policy” of rapprochement with the isolated communist regime or to take economic actions that could cause the collapse of its impoverished neighbor.
North Korea has called the sanctions a “declaration of war” and warned of a “merciless” response to anyone who undermines its sovereignty.
Senior US officials said a key message Rice would give South Korean leaders is that Washington would not seek to impose the UN sanctions in a way that would further destabilize the situation.
“We’ll make clear to the Koreans that the United States has no interest in ratcheting up tensions”, said one senior official accompanying her.
The UN resolution bans trade with North Korea related to its development of nuclear arms, ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction, and imposes financial controls to starve the North Korean military of funds.
But the most controversial measure calls for the inspection of cargo to and from North Korea, aimed at preventing its cash-strapped government from selling material for an atomic bomb or other illicit weapons to terrorists.
Rice met with President Roh Moo-Hyun and then held a trilateral meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon and his Japanese counterpart Taro Aso -- the first such three-way ministerial encounter in more than a year.
Her visit came amid reports that North Korea could try to test another nuclear weapon, and as a senior US official revealed that a high-powered Chinese delegation was in Pyongyang Thursday in a bid to talk them out of it.
“I’m pretty convinced that the Chinese will have a very strong message about future tests”, the official said.
“My understanding is that [the delegation’s trip] would be part of Chinese efforts to convince the North Koreans to comply with [UN] Resolution 1718, as well as the other relevant Security Council measures that are out there”, State Department Tom Casey noted.
The delegation was also expected to press North Korea to return to six-party negotiations involving China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
The six reached an agreement in September 2005 under which North Korea would give up its nuclear program in return for security guarantees and a massive influx of aid. But Pyongyang walked out of the talks last November to protest at US sanctions aimed at locking it out of the international banking system.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the delegation was led by State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, a former foreign minister, and included “all the Foreign Ministry’s point people on North Korea”.
Before going to North Korea, Tang met the previous week with US President George W. Bush in Washington and Russian leaders in Moscow, though he did not discuss his plans for the Pyongyang trip with American officials.
The outcome of the talks was expected to be discussed when Rice visited Beijing on Friday, but Washington officials downplayed suggestions of an immediate breakthrough.
China is North Korea’s oldest ally and biggest trading partner and has been reluctant to impose sanctions on its neighbor.
But the State Department official said there had been a “dramatic shift” in China’s policy since North Korea test-fired a series of ballistic missiles in July and then carried out last week’s nuclear test.
“China is very concerned about the development of nuclear weapons on its border, the proliferation of those weapons and the possible transfer of those weapons”.
In Seoul, Rice discussed South Korea’s participation in efforts to track and inspect North Korean shipping, aimed at preventing it from trafficking in nuclear materials or weapons of mass destruction, US officials said.
The Americans were also pressing South Korea to curb or end a large tourist complex it finances at Mount Kumgang which provides North Korea with tens of millions of dollars in hard currency each year.
But they cautioned that Rice was unlikely to seek any specific commitments from the South Koreans at this time.
While in Tokyo, Rice warned North Korea that the United States would respond with the full range of its military might to any attack on its allies as it called for the swift implementation of UN sanctions.
Rice issued the warning in Tokyo on the first stop of her regional tour, triggered by the crisis over Pyongyang’s first atom bomb test and amid fears the North might carry out a second test.
“The role of the United States is to make certain that everybody, including the North Koreans, know very well that the United States will fully recognize and act upon its obligations under its mutual defense treaty” with Japan, Rice said.
“The United States has the will and the capability to meet the full range, and I underscore the full range, of its deterrence and security commitment to Japan”, she said after talks with her Japanese counterpart, Taro Aso.
Rice said the United States and Japan, which has taken a tough line on North Korea, wanted all countries to comply with a UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on the North.
“The foreign minister and I pledged we will work together and with other states for the swift implementation and the effective implementation of all of the measures” under the resolution”, Rice said.
North Korea has denounced the sanctions resolution as a “declaration of war” and promised to inflict “merciless blows without hesitation” on any countries enforcing them.
Such bellicose rhetoric has prompted calls in Japan for debate on the long-taboo option of developing its own nuclear weapons since North Korea tested its first atom bomb, triggering fears of a regional arms race.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ruled out acquiring atomic weapons in Japan, the only country to have suffered nuclear attack. But others in his ruling party have said the option should be at least discussed.
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned that more countries are likely to go nuclear unless the international community acts cohesively to stop them.
“There is at least a reasonable likelihood that some other countries will decide that they need to have nuclear weapons”, Rumsfeld said in a speech to a military audience at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.
“And... in a relatively short period you could have two, four, six other countries decide that”.
The effect would be “exactly the opposite of what the international community wants to have happen. A lower nuclear threshold, more countries with nuclear weapons, a greater likelihood that one of the countries or more might transfer those weapons to a non-state entity”.
Rumsfeld’s comments came 10 days after North Korea detonated its first nuclear explosion.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey confirmed that a senior Chinese official was visiting North Korea amid fear Pyongyang may conduct another nuclear test.
China is North Korea’s leading political ally and trading partner and is believed to have the most leverage over the reclusive communist state.
UN Resolution 1718, unanimously approved on October 14 by the Security Council, calls on North Korea to return to negotiations about its nuclear program and imposes sanctions on the state.
Although China supported the resolution, which imposed tough sanctions on North Korea, it has shown mixed feelings about a key measure for countries to search North Korean cargo ships.

Japan, US step up work on missile shield

Japan and the United States agreed in top-level talks last week to strengthen their military alliance and step up work on missile defense.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a conservative who took office last month, backed a tough line on North Korea as he met with Rice.
“Japan will make an effort to strengthen the Japan-US alliance, including on missile defense”, Abe told Rice, according to Abe’s adviser Hiroshige Seko, who also attended the meeting.
Rice in turn said that “strengthening and modernizing the US-Japan alliance will be a base of responding to this situation” with North Korea, Seko said.
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that Abe and Rice “talked about the importance of cooperative defense measures such as intelligence-sharing and missile defense”.
More than any other country, Japan feels a direct threat from North Korea, which fired a missile over its main island in 1998.
That incident led the United States and Japan to team up to build a missile defense shield. The American military also installed Patriot surface-to-air missiles in Japan after North Korea test-fired seven missiles in July.
Abe, who rose to popularity by campaigning against North Korea, has championed a greater military role for Japan, which was forced by the Allies to renounce the right to wage war after its defeat in World War II.
American and Japanese officials said Abe and Rice agreed on the need to enforce sanctions on North Korea imposed by the UN Security Council.
“North Korea must understand that things will get worse if it fails to respond to the international community’s concerns”, Abe was quoted by Seko as telling Rice.
North Korea’s nuclear test last week has raised US fears of a nuclear arms race in East Asia and led to calls in Japan to debate the long-taboo idea of building its own atomic weapons.
Rice reaffirmed to Abe that “the United States regards Japan’s security as US security”, Seko said.
“She said that North Koreans should not believe they can change the security environment and that the Japan-US alliance has an ability to respond to their challenge”.
Hiroshi Suzuki, the deputy cabinet secretary for public relations, played down the attention given to the calls to debate the nuclear option.
“Despite many reports inside and abroad suggesting that there could be a possible review, the Japanese government strictly upholds and adheres to its three non-nuclear principles” of not producing, possessing or allowing entry of nuclear weapons onto its territory, Suzuki said.
Rice was the first high-ranking US official to meet Abe since he took office last month, succeeding his mentor, Junichiro Koizumi, who was one of US President George W. Bush’s closest foreign allies.
Abe asked Rice to tell Bush that he is “looking forward to” holding their first summit on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in Vietnam in November.
In a meeting with Aso, Rice praised Abe for visiting China and South Korea the previous week in a bid to improve ties that were tense under Koizumi, according to another Japanese official at the talks.

‘A second test would show North Korea has the bomb’

North Korea is eager to conduct a second atom bomb test to erase any doubts after a first attempt on October 9 that it truly is capable of producing nuclear weapons, according to Western arms experts.
A new test could be imminent simply “because the first one failed”, argues Joseph Bermudez, a researcher at Jane’s Defense Weekly in Britain.
Many experts worldwide have suggested that the underground explosion that took place earlier this month was too small to have been a successful nuclear explosion.
Which is why, Bermudez said, “it is likely that the North Korean scientific community wants” to try again, he said.
“If you look at what Pakistan did in 1998, the initial explosion had failed”, Bermudez said by way of precedent. “It didn’t get to full yield -- it didn’t have full explosive power -- so they... carried on a series of follow-up tests validating their design”.
North Korea, he said, could be facing a similar situation.
“Until you actually test it -- using your manufacturing capabilities, your equipment, and your fissile material -- you can never know if the design was good or if the computer models you used were good”.
Whether North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il will be discouraged from conducting such a test for political reasons, he mused, was another matter.
Japanese and South Korean officials have cited information of possible preparations for a second test, triggering warnings from around the world and an immediate call for restraint from China, Pyongyang’s closest ally.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has urged North Korea to heed concerns and take a “rational decision” that would lead to talks.
Thérèse Delpech, director of strategic affairs at the French Atomic Energy Commission, agrees that something did not go as planned during North Korea’s first attempt to detonate an atomic device: “If the explosion on October 9 was nuclear test, then it was a failure”, yielding a force of less than one kiloton, she said.
The mid-air blast that devastated Hiroshima at the end of World War II was between 12 and 16 kilotons, according to most estimates.
While North Korea has not yet proven its ability to make and detonate an atom bomb, it is certainly close to that goal, according the François Gère, director of the French Institute for Strategic Analysis.
“They are in the process of conducting experiments that will allow them to produce a real atomic weapon within three months, perhaps six”, he said. It would probably not, he added, be more sophisticated than the plutonium bomb dropped over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.
The test North Korea conducted earlier this month might, in fact, be a “very advanced form of laboratory experiment” designed to test the fuses and the explosive material used to trigger the nuclear reaction.
Technically speaking, “they are moving in the right direction, but until we have the results of the test and we know exactly what they wanted to test”, Gère said, “we cannot know whether it was a failure or not”.
From a strategic standpoint, “if North Korea really wants to show the world that it has a nuclear weapon, and to improve its program”, opined Pascal Boniface, director of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations, “one can understand that it would conduct several tests.”
“One can say with certainty that North Korea has a nuclear capacity, but we don’t know its degree of sophistication or to what extent it has been perfected”.
South Korea has stepped up its monitoring, although a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff told journalists there were no signs yet of a second test.
But experts said Pyongyang’s announcement indicated the North was ready for a further trial.
South Korean and Japanese officials cited information of possible preparations for another test, triggering a plea for restraint from China, but arms experts say North Korea may want to go ahead and prove itself

'Russia bending to China’s will on North Korea’

Russia’s cautious approach to supporting sanctions against North Korea reflects a growing desire to please China rather than any fondness for the hard-line leadership in Pyongyang, analysts in Moscow say.
Pragmatism seems to have been the name of the game when Russia set strict pre-conditions before eventually supporting the US-sponsored resolution on Pyongyang’s nuclear program in the United Nations Security Council.
“China is a more important player in this field and we’re sort of allies... Here we coordinated with China and didn’t stick out on our own”, Moscow-based defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer indicated.
In particular, any nostalgia for the friendship between the Soviet Union and North Korea in the early years of its independence has long ago been overtaken under President Vladimir Putin by hard-nosed realism, analysts say.
This partly derives from a visit to Pyongyang by Putin in 2000 which led to the Russian president being humiliated by his host, President Kim Jong-Il.
The visit -- extremely rare for a world leader -- ended with Putin telling Western leaders that Kim had promised to give up his nuclear ambitions, but only days later Kim announced that he had been joking.
Putin “strongly hates” Kim Jong-Il because of the incident, Felgenhauer explained.
Return visits by Kim in 2001 and 2002 have done little to cement ties, prompting instead bewilderment at his decision on the first visit to spend weeks traveling by train from North Korea to St. Petersburg and back again.
In the view of Anton Khlopkov, deputy director of the Moscow-based research group PIR, Russia has genuine reasons to be cautious about being more aggressive towards North Korea, as increased pressure could have dangerous consequences.
“It’s hard to predict their reaction to sanctions and they don’t impinge on the leadership but the people”, Khlopkov said, referring to the North Koreans. “They would resort to any lengths to protect their regime”.
But others say that Russia’s reluctance to impose stronger sanctions reflects a lack of serious concern about the nuclear ambitions of North Korea, which shares an 18-kilometer border with Russia’s Far Eastern province of Primorsky.
“I don’t think Russia is seriously worried about North Korea’s nuclear program. The conventional wisdom is that North Korea wants nuclear weapons not to attack Russia or anyone but to have a symbol of power”, said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.
Others are disturbed by Russia’s willingness to follow the lead of China, which has sought closer ties with Moscow on issues ranging from energy to defense.
Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama research center, sees a growing anti-Americanism in Russia’s caution on the North Korea issue.
In part Russia fears any international approval for forceful regime change because it was deeply shaken by the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), he says.
“Russia is very afraid of America... Russia feels the only guarantee that it will not be punished itself is its nuclear weapons and having allies like China, Iran, North Korea and Libya”, Pribylovsky indicated.
Moscow’s desire to maintain the status quo in North Korea and follow China’s lead has been sharply criticized by Asia specialist Alexander Lukin, of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.
Warning that “anti-Americanism can’t become the hub of Russian foreign policy”, he argued in the Kommersant newspaper that going soft on nuclear proliferation threatened regional stability, while also de-valuing Russia’s advantage as a nuclear-armed state.
A change of leadership in North Korea would lead to reunification of the peninsula, which in turn would be in Russia’s interest, he argued.
“Russia should support more severe sanctions... and should advise Beijing to do the same.
“For Russia, which also has some tricky problems in relations with Japan and for which a powerful China is also a strategic challenge, a united Korea could turn into a geopolitical partner”, Lukin said.

Doomsday clock counts down to nuclear Armageddon
amid North Korea talks

Just steps from the birthplace of nuclear power, the Doomsday Clock is counting down to nuclear Armageddon and North Korea could push it closer to midnight.
The Korean Peninsula is not even pictured on the map etched onto the flat copper clock: only the Americas, Europe and Africa are shown. But it will dominate the discussion when a group of leading experts meet in Chicago next month close to the site where nuclear fission was first achieved to discuss the global nuclear threat.
“What we are concerned about is the domino effects from the test”, said Kennette Benedict, executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which has kept the clock since 1947 as a reminder of the dangers of nuclear proliferation.
First set at seven minutes to midnight -- a phrase that has become part of pop culture -- the clock has been moved 17 times in response to global events.
The most recent shift was in 2002 when it moved two minutes forward because the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and terrorists were known to be seeking nuclear and biological weapons. It now stands back at seven minutes to midnight, the closest to danger since the end of the Cold War.
“The North Korean test will be important for the cascading events that can happen and the incentives it provides for other countries, and other people, to acquire them”, Benedict told reporters on a rainy afternoon in the book-lined conference room that houses the Doomsday Clock.
There is “every reason to believe” that an impoverished and isolated North Korea will sell bombs or the technology to develop them in order to raise much-needed capital, Benedict said, noting that Al-Qaeda has declared its desire for a nuclear bomb.
Beyond the black market threat, however, is the impact of further proliferation: should North Korea escape punishment, there will be little disincentive for other states with nuclear ambitions, such as Iran, to follow suit. It could also stimulate an arms race in Asia, she suggested.
While North Korea’s fulfillment of its nuclear ambition is a frightening development, there is still an opportunity for diplomacy to win out, Benedict said.
“Other countries have shut down their nuclear weapons programs: Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Libya. We’d like to give the players a chance to have those options acted upon before we move the clock hastily because of the test that has taken place”.
And ultimately, North Korea’s possession of a nuclear bomb does not radically tip the nuclear balance.
There are currently about 27,000 nuclear warheads in the world, down from around 70,000 at the height of the Cold War, and a thousand of them are ready to launch within 30 minutes, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Nuclear Notebook.
About half of Russia’s 16,000 warheads are not properly secured, Benedict said, adding that “there are still places with just a padlock on a fence”.
Meanwhile, the global network of illicit trade in nuclear technology developed by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan remains active and tensions in along the Pakistani borders with Afghanistan and India remain high, she added.
“In an odd way, even though the numbers of weapons are down, because the political dialogue and the diplomacy that’s going on is so limited, we actually -- I think all of us -- have a sense of foreboding and that’s what makes this time so much more difficult than others”, Benedict said.
A short walk from the three-story brick house used as the Bulletin’s offices, the University of Chicago has erected a monument to nuclear power at the site where nuclear fission was first achieved on December 2, 1942.
It’s a bronze sculpture by Henry Moore of a mushroom cloud. As world leaders struggled to convince North Korea to “take a different course”, a small blackbird lay dead at its base, wings stretched out in the rain.
(Monday Morning Com)

Bush & Blair: two leaders searching for a way out of Iraq, and finding none

Their credibility undermined, their moral authority shot, their populatrity in tatters, yet still they fight on. Rupert Cornwell on the bleakest week of the bloodiest month for the war leaders (Independent News)

Their faces alone said everything. At his press conference on Wednesday, in the sumptuous setting of the White House East Room, George Bush was grim, bemused and aged. In the House of Commons 3,000 miles away, Tony Blair stood rooted to the same political spot he has occupied for more than three years. Two leaders, mesmerised and transfixed by the enormity of the crisis they face, searching for an exit and finding none.

In the bleak recent history of Iraq, this last week may have been the most despairing for them, when the converging disasters set in motion by their misconceived invasion of March 2003 became impossible to deny and the gap between their aspirations for Iraq and the reality on the ground there became a chasm.

Events have now acquired a terrible momentum of their own. This month alone the insurgency has claimed more than 1,000 lives, to add to the tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of lives already lost. Another 1.3 million Iraqis are now refugees. The American and British armies are stretched to breaking point. The cost of the war, for America alone, now tops $300bn (£158bn). The moral authority of both countries has been grievously damaged.

Never in modern history has the solution to one problem resulted in the creation of so many larger problems, especially since the initial "problem", Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, turned out to be non-existent.

It was a fitting irony that the week's most lapidary judgement on the disaster of Iraq came from Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector, scornfully thrust aside by London and Washington in the rush to war. "Iraq is a pure failure," Dr Blix told the Danish newspaper Politiken. "If the Americans pull out, there is a risk that they will leave a country in civil war. At the same time it doesn't seem that the United States can help to stabilise the situation by staying there."

The news from the battlefield yesterday only proved his point. Two more US soldiers were killed, 11 Iraqi police were captured at a fake checkpoint; at least two roadside bombs went off in Baghdad, killing and wounding dozens. At least six bodies bearing signs of torture were found on roads south of the capital. And that is only a sampling.

The pressures on Mr Bush and Mr Blair are now immense. The sheer scale of the bloodshed and chaos their invasion unleashed - coupled with the dissembling that preceded it - has undermined their credibility and destroyed their popularity. The latest US polls show only one in five Americans believes Washington is winning in Iraq, a figure halved since December, while two out of three oppose the war.

The level of scepticism in Britain is even greater, as Mr Blair next week faces the first parliamentary debate on Iraq in two years. Mr Bush's domestic problems however run much deeper than an uncomfortable afternoon in the Commons. It is his troops that are enduring their heaviest death toll in a year. As of yesterday, 98 American soldiers have already died since 1 October, the most in a single month since January 2005. It is his Republican Party that faces defeat in the mid-term elections in nine days' time, and the probable loss of the absolute control of Congress he has enjoyed for the past four years.

Hence the frenzy of activity last week. Mr Bush conferred with his top military commanders, while Mr Blair reassured Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister that Britain would not "lose its nerve". Generals and ambassadors held forth; military operations were intensified.

There are now 20,000 more US troops in Iraq than in early summer. In Baghdad, American forces have moved into the Shia stronghold of Sadr City in their hunt for a kidnapped soldier. But each patrol, each air strike, carries risks of yet another US soldier being killed, or of terrible mistakes that only further alienate the civilian populace.

On Tuesday, for instance, American soldiers shot dead four innocent Iraqi firemen; yesterday in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, three women and two children were killed by an errant American bomb.

Both leaders know (though they cannot admit) that, short of their committing every available soldier and turning Iraq into an occupied state like post-war Germany, events are largely beyond their control. Both want nothing more than to extricate themselves from the crisis. Their goal must be, somehow, to declare "victory" and bring the troops home - a retreat camouflaged by some fig-leaf of achievement.

But it will be desperately difficult. Britain and America are damned for staying in Iraq, but they will be damned if they leave. An overhasty departure would not only be irresponsible, but also an acknowledgement that the invasion was a blunder. There are only two possible exit scenarios: either when some sort of peace settlement (however short-lived) is achieved, or if the Iraq government asks the coalition to leave. Neither looks likely.

"For some time to come we will need the support of the international community," Barham Salih, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, said after his visit to Downing Street.In the holy month of Ramadan alone, 300 Iraqi security forces were killed, while civilian casualties have been four times that.

Last week both Mr Bush and Mr Blair were at pains to point out that "cut and run" is not on the agenda. "One thing we will not do," the President said. "We will not pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete." Mr Blair's language was almost identical. To do otherwise, he said, would be a "complete betrayal of the Iraqi people". And, once again, Mr Bush endorsed his much-criticised Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

But on both sides of the Atlantic, political reality is forcing change. Desperation is prodding diplomacy in hitherto untested directions. US officials are said to be holding talks in the Jordanian capital, Amman, with leaders of the insurgency, including representatives of Saddam's banned Baathist party - none other than Mr Rumsfeld's famous "regime remnants". An amnesty, a prisoner release, and even possible disarmament, are apparently on offer.

"There's been a change in the position of the Americans," says Jabr Hadeeb Jabr, Shia politician and member of the Baghdad government's Council for Reconciliation. No change is greater than the readiness to contemplate the involvement of Syria and Iran in the search for a solution.

The Foreign Office and Condoleezza Rice are interested in the idea, but Mr Bush, Mr Rumsfeld, and Vice-President Cheney thus far will have none of it.

There is also ongoing debate about some level of devolution to Sunni, Shia and Kurdish regions. The idea has been publicly aired by the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, but dismissed by Gordon Brown (for once, the Chancellor is presumed to be speaking for Mr Blair).

Just how far Washington is prepared to go in thinking the previously unthinkable may be clearer when the bipartisan commission chaired by James Baker, former secretary of state to Bush the elder, reports after the mid-term elections. Mr Baker is known to support an approach to Iran and Syria.

But there are huge, possibly insuperable obstacles to any solution in Iraq. The most immediate is the strength of the insurgency and of the militias. True, Kurdistan and the southern state of Muthanna are broadly peaceful, while Iraqi security forces have enjoyed success in Tikrit and Najaf. But the massacres of Sunnis earlier this month in Balad, north of Baghdad, and the brief militia takeover of Amara in the south, tell another story.

On Monday, Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister, announced a crackdown to tackle the armed violence.Events gave him the lie, even as he spoke. In Amara, militiamen loyal to an anti-US cleric re-emerged, hunting down and killing four policemen from a rival militia. Almost simultaneously, the rival Badr Brigades fighters beheaded the kidnapped nephew of the slain Mahdi army commander.

The Iraqi army set up a few roadblocks but did not interfere in the movement of Muqtada al-Sadr's fighters, after police had fled the streets. Nonetheless, Mr al-Maliki's deputy, Barham Salih, was still saying Iraqi forces could be in control of eight of the 18 provinces by the end of the year.

General George Casey, the top US commander in Iraq, does not share this optimism. "We are about 75 per cent of the way through a three-step process in building those [Iraqi] forces," Gen Casey said on Tuesday. It would take "another 12 to 18 months or so" until Iraqi security forces were "completely capable" of taking over, albeit "still coupled with some level of support from us".

Then there is the disconnect between the US government and the Shia-dominated administration in Baghdad. On Tuesday, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador, said that Iraqi leaders had agreed to a timetable of security measures, including a new law on oil revenue sharing, "in a way that unites the country"; a timeline for dealing with the militias; and a constitutional amendment guaranteeing democratic rights and equality for all Iraqis.

But within 24 hours, Mr al-Maliki - absent from the previous day's press conference - distanced himself from the plan, especially the "timeline" for eliminating death squads. "If anyone is responsible for the poor security situation in Iraq, it is the coalition," he noted tartly. By Friday, ambassador and Prime Minister had finally met. Mr al-Maliki seemed to move towards the US position, not least on "timelines". But yesterday, the premier was hedging again: "I am America's friend, but not America's man in Iraq."

Most intractable is the sectarianism that has grown in three years from a politically repressive, but secular, society. In the post-invasion chaos, long-suppressed poisons have bubbled to the surface. More visibly than at any time in a half century, Iraq stands as the artificial construct that emerged from three Ottoman provinces after the First World War. That now comprises the oil-rich Shia south, with 60 per cent of the population, a predominantly Sunni centre with next to no oil, and the Kurdish north, also oil rich.

The two national elections of 2005 solidified sectarian and ethnic divisions and helped set the stage for the drive the country towards all-out civil war.

Mr al-Maliki's Shia alliance controls 130 of the 275 parliament seats, but it is divided among several factions, two of which - the largest of them headed by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the biggest faction, and that of Muqtada al-Sadr - severely constrain his room for manoeuvre. Both men control armed militias; between them they command more seats than Mr al-Maliki's faction, so any move against the militias without their would threaten the al-Maliki power base.

Meanwhile, US-backed plans to create autonomous regions with varying access to Iraq's oil wealth threaten only to make the problem worse, inflaming the dynastic struggles among Shia Muslim clerics who dominate the politics of Iraq as they do in neighbouring Iran.

The scheduled provincial elections next year - ahead of the possible formation of new federal regions in 2008 - will bring those struggles to a head, several officials said.

So what now?Once the 7 November elections are out of the way, Donald Rumsfeld may or may not lose his job. But not only is this President loyal to a fault; to fire the architect of his war would be seen as an admission that his entire Iraq policy has failed. That fact, however, has kept Mr Rumsfeld in office, against all the odds, for the past year.

Last week, in short, was the week when everything changed - and nothing changed at all.