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Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 16:46 GMT
Malaysian row over TV 'propaganda'
Mahathir Mohamad
Dr Mahathir says PAS is unfit to govern
The Malaysian Government has refused to withdraw a television commercial that the main opposition party complains is trying to link it with terrorism.

The government commercial combines images of Islamic Party (PAS) leaders with footage of a woman being killed by Islamic militants in Afghanistan.

The commercial, screened during the peak-time news ahead of a by-election this weekend, also intersperses images of Malaysian Islamic extremists with shots of the US bombing of Afghanistan.

PAS supporters
Media have tried to link PAS supporters to terrorism
The party's vice President, Mustafa Ali, told the BBC the campaign was pure propaganda designed to link the party to terrorism and religious militancy, and to scare non-Muslims in the country.

The soundtrack does not mention PAS by name, but refers to the Islamic policies in the two Malaysian states it controls as "tell-tale signs" of extremism.

The government said the commercial was just to educate the Malaysian public about the situation in the country.

Opposition success

The voiceover refers to restrictions on Muslim women, saying it wants to warn Malaysians against supporting PAS.

"These are the tell-tale signs if the country were to be governed by a crude administration of extremists and religious militants," it says. "It is not surprising [if] what had befallen Afghan women would befall women in this country."

Malaysia Muslim women shopping
Many Malaysians opposed the US attacks on Afghanistan
Accompanying footage of a US bomber in Afghanistan, the voiceover says: "Surely Malaysians do not wish the country to be in such a state where foreign power is needed to rescue it from its predicament using military might."

Our correspondent in Kuala Lumpur says this is not the first time Malaysia's ruling coalition has exploited its control of the main broadcast media to the discomfort of its political opponents.

He says violent images of turmoil elsewhere, often from neighbouring Indonesia or the Philippines, are frequently used to push a very pointed message that a vote for the opposition risks plunging the country into anarchy.

PAS (Parti Islam SeMalaysia) is Malaysia's largest opposition party, controlling the states of Kelantan and Terengganu.

It tripled its parliamentary seats in 1999 following anger over the sacking and imprisonment of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. Anwar says his convictions for sodomy and corruption were politically motivated, though the government strongly denies this.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has frequently described PAS as fanatical and unfit to rule Malaysia, a moderate, mostly Muslim country of 22 million people.

The BBC's Simon Ingram
"It's doubtful the affair will have much effect on Saturday's by-election"
See also:

04 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysia holds 'militant Muslims'
26 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysian opposition fear crackdown
24 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysia denies harbouring terrorists
04 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysia's fearsome security law
30 Nov 99 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysia's opposition: Breaking the mould?
30 Nov 99 | Asia-Pacific
Mahathir secures fifth term
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