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Malaysian takes swipes at US, Israel
( 2003-10-31 09:42) (Agencies)

Retiring Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad took some parting swipes at the United States this time about slavery and Christianity and compared Europe's past ill-treatment of Jews to the way Israel treats Palestinians.

Mahathir, who steps down Friday after 22 years in power, used a visit to a mosque to stoke the controversy he triggered two weeks ago by comments alleging Jewish world dominance.

The remark was widely condemned and prompted a U.S. Senate vote this week to tie $1.2 million in military aid for Malaysia to a guarantee of religious freedom and tolerance for Jews.

"Some people say that we here have no freedom of religion," Mahathir said Wednesday, in a clear reference to the United States, without mentioning it by name. "In reality, the people in that country are the ones who were forced to embrace a religion."

People "who were abducted from Africa were brought to that country and made slaves, tortured and forced to change their religion, including Muslim slaves, (they) were forced to convert," Mahathir said.

On Thursday, at a news conference after he tendered his resignation as leader of Malaysia's ruling party a key step toward his retirement Mahathir was asked if he had a parting message for Jews.

"They must never claim they are the chosen people, who cannot be criticized at all," Mahathir replied.

"We sympathize with them, we were very sad to see how the Jews were so ill treated by the Europeans," Mahathir said. "The Muslims have never ill-treated the Jews, but now they are behaving exactly in the way the Europeans behaved toward them against the Muslims."

Mahathir, who has urged Muslims to reject violence, including Palestinian suicide bombings against Israelis, said the Middle East conflict was in essence a land dispute, not a religious one.

"They have taken land belonging to the Muslims," Mahathir said. "Suppose a part of Britain or a part of America was taken away and given to the Jews as Israel. Do you think the Americans are going to sit quietly and say `Welcome,' and all that? They won't."

"Why do you expect the Palestinians to accept being expelled from their own country ... (it being) given to the Jews," he said.

"It is not religion at all, it is territorial."

Mahathir, 77, has been Muslim-majority Malaysia's leader since 1981 and is credited with spearheading its transformation from a rubber- and tin- producing backwater to one of Southeast Asia's most prosperous and modern countries.

He has also earned a reputation as an outspoken critic of the West and champion of poorer and Islamic nations.

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