Malaysian deputy PM rebuffs Mahathir

Malaysia's deputy leader has defended the government's decision to scrap a bridge with Singapore, rebuffing former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad who has raised a national ruckus by insisting the bridge should have been built.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said a Cabinet meeting he chaired Wednesday unanimously agreed that the April 12 decision on the bridge project, which was Mahathir's brainchild, was correct.

Najib is in charge while Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is abroad.

In a statement released late Thursday, Najib said: "I would like to stress that the Cabinet yesterday decided to reaffirm its support towards the decision. In making the decision, the Cabinet took full responsibility as a government towards the people."

Najib, once considered close to Mahathir, is the third Cabinet minister to rise to Abdullah's defense against a string of sharp-tongued criticism by Mahathir. Mahathir retired in 2003 after 22 years as prime minister, and is treated with enormous deference by all Malaysians.

But the open public spat between him and government leaders shows that patience is wearing thin in the country with the 80-year-old former prime minister who had promised not to interfere in the running of the government after stepping down.

In abandoning the bridge project, which was to have replaced an existing causeway connecting the two neighbors, Abdullah said he found Singapore's preconditions unacceptable: access to Malaysian air space for its military planes and sale of Malaysian sand for reclamation projects.

But Mahathir claims Malaysia could have unilaterally built a bridge on its part of the straits and connected it to the causeway where Singapore's portion begins.

He said Abdullah's decision was tantamount to surrendering its sovereignty and called Malaysia under Abdullah's leadership a "half-past-six country with no guts," meaning the country was in its sunset years, reports the AP.


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