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Malaysia 'sorry' for flap over Jews
( 2003-10-17 17:42) (Agencies)

Malaysia, faced with angry criticism from the United States and Europe, apologized Friday for "any misunderstanding" over assertions by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad that Jews rule the world.

Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar struggled to contain the damage wrought by his blunt-spoken boss, who told a 57-nation Islamic summit Thursday that "Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them."

The speech drew immediate international criticism and raised fears that it could fan violence against Jews. But it got a standing ovation from the kings, presidents, sheiks and emirs including key U.S. allies gathered in Malaysia's capital, Putrajaya.

Mahathir had used allegations of Jewish dominance to buttress his chief point, that Muslims needed to embrace modern knowledge and technology and overcome divisions over religious dogma that have left them weakened on the world stage.

But the statements about Jews stood out, and condemnations were swift and unambiguous from the United States, the European Union, Australia and Germany, which summoned Malaysia's charge d'affaires in Berlin to protest the comments as "totally unacceptable."

"I'm sorry that they have misunderstood the whole thing," Syed Hamid, the foreign minister, told The Associated Press. "The intention is not to create controversy. His intention is to show that if you ponder and sit down to think, you can be very powerful."

Mahathir declined to speak to reporters who approached him Friday, telling them to wait until an evening news conference.

Syed Hamid said the world's Muslims were in a "quagmire" and feeling "sidelined or marginalized," reflecting a widespread perception in the Islamic world as the war on terrorism has evolved into U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Israeli has increased repression of the Palestinians.

Please forget about anti-Semitism," Syed Hamid told reporters.

He added that Mahathir's "message is to stop violence, which is not the answer for us to succeed in our struggle. People may not be very happy but this is the reality: the Jews are very powerful."

Syed Hamid noted that Malaysia has a state policy of religious harmony, in which the ethnic Malay Muslim majority lives alongside large non-Muslim Chinese and Indian minorities. The country is one of Southeast Asia's most modern and wealthy, and has jailed terror suspects without qualms.

"How can we be anti-Jew? It is far from the truth," Syed Hamid said.

Mahathir, a respected leader in the developing world with a long history of making articulate, provocative comments, is retiring Oct. 31 after 22 years in power. He told the Islamic leaders that Muslims had achieved "nothing" in more than 50 years of fighting Israel.

"They survived 2,000 years of pogroms not by hitting back but by thinking," Mahathir said of the Jews. "They invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so that they can enjoy equal rights with others."

Mahathir said the world's "1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews," but suggested the use of political and economic tactics, not violence, to achieve a "final victory."

In their reactions to the speech, most of the leaders at the summit focused on the aspects that Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher called "a good road map" toward Muslim empowerment.

Asked by the AP whether he thought the speech was anti-Semitic, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said: "I don't think so."

"Dr. Mahathir spoke of the inhibitions within the Islamic world and that those inhibitions must go away, and I entirely agree with that," Karzai said.

But State Department spokesman Adam Ereli called Mahathir's remarks offensive and inflammatory. "We view them with the contempt and derision they deserve," he said.

The leaders of the European Union, meeting in Brussels, Belgium, planned to adopt a statement saying the 15-nation bloc "deeply deplores" Mahathir's words, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said.

"The prime minister used expressions that were gravely offensive, very strongly anti-Semitic and ... strongly counter to principles of tolerance, dialogue and understanding between the Western world and the Islamic world," Frattini said.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard called Mahathir's comments offensive and repugnant.

"Any suggestion from anybody anywhere in the world of dividing the world into Jewish and non-Jewish groupings is historically indefensible and wrong," Howard told Australia Radio.

Leaders at the summit included Karzai, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines were special guests because of their large Muslim minorities.

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