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Megawati applauded Mahathir attack on Jews

October 18, 2003,
By Mark Riley, Tom Allard and Matthew Moore

The Indonesian President, Megawati Soekarnoputri, joined a standing ovation for her Malaysian counterpart, Mahathir Mohamad, after he called on Muslims to consider Jews as their enemy, it has been revealed.

All 57 leaders at a Conference of Islamic Nations summit applauded the comments, which have renewed regional tensions ahead of next week's APEC leaders' conference. Among them were several key figures in the post-September 11 world, including Ms Megawati; the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai; President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Dr Mahathir's speech was met with a chorus of condemnation from leaders of non-Islamic states yesterday, including the Prime Minister, John Howard.

The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, last night snubbed Malaysia's Foreign Minister, Syed Hamid Albar, declining to invite him to a dinner to discuss Islam and the fight against terrorism at the Australian ambassador's residence in Bangkok.

Indonesia's Hassan Wirayuda attended, along with the foreign ministers of New Zealand, Canada, Singapore and Japan and a US undersecretary of state, Alan Larson.

"We will be exploring the issue of how to support moderate Islam and moderate Islamic leadership," Mr Downer said before the dinner.

"We didn't invite everybody to it. Malaysia is going through a political transition. In two weeks' time, Dr Mahathir retires," he said, hailing his successor, Abdullah Badawi, as a "good and moderate and sensible man".

He said Dr Mahathir's remarks had not been discussed by foreign ministers gathered in Bangkok, neither had President George Bush's description of Australia as a sheriff.

Mr Howard, who arrives in Bangkok this afternoon for the APEC summit, is expected to sign a free trade agreement with Thailand and make a keynote speech on terrorism.

He is also due to meet Ms Megawati privately on Monday to discuss regional security issues.

Dr Mahathir told the meeting of Islamic leaders in Malaysia on Thursday that "Jews rule this world by proxy".

He accused Jews worldwide of "getting others to fight and die for them" and called on Muslims to fight back with their brain and brawn.

Mr Howard noted that Dr Mahathir would retire soon, and said he would normally allow such polemical statements from the Malaysian leader to "go through to the keeper".

However, he wanted to make clear that "any indication of rivalry between Jews and Muslims is very unhelpful".

"Any suggestion from anybody anywhere in the world of dividing the world into Jewish and non-Jewish groupings is historically indefensible and wrong and something that all Australians, or most Australians, would regard as quite repugnant," he said.

An Indonesian Government spokesman, Marty Natalegawa, expressed support for Dr Mahathir's statement and declined to condemn his remarks about Jews ruling the world.

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