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Wednesday, 15 May, 2002, 00:31 GMT 01:31 UK
Malaysian PM attacks West's 'impatience'
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and President George W Bush
Dr Mahathir has become a key US ally in Asia
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, on a visit to the United States, has accused the West of undermining countries by insisting that they implement democratic reforms.

One day perhaps we will be comfortable with your values, but for the moment we are not comfortable

Mahathir Mohamad
"The West is very impatient. You want overnight change," he told members of the US Congress in Washington.

He later held a meeting with President George W Bush - his first visit to the White House in almost a decade.

The two countries have recently become closer due to Malaysia's support for Mr Bush's war on terror, but human rights groups concerns that Dr Mahathir is using anti-terror measures to eliminate legitimate opposition.

Shared terror fears

"Sudden change even if it is for the good is disruptive. Democracy for people who are not used to it can undermine stability resulting in war," Dr Mahathir said.

He added that his country was "unable to accept the absolute freedom that you believe in... One day perhaps we will be comfortable with your values, but for the moment we are not comfortable".

Relations between Dr Mahathir's government and Washington have been strained in the past following the jailing in 1998 of the former Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, on charges widely condemned as politically motivated.

However, ties between the two nations have strengthened as a result of Dr Mahathir's support for Mr Bush's crackdown on terrorism in the wake of the 11 September attacks on the United States.

The Malaysian Government has arrested more than 60 suspected Islamic militants with alleged links to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror group.

The BBC's Katty Kay says that President Bush thanked Dr Mahathir for his friendship and leadership at a brief press conference.

"We share a deep concern about terror - what terror means to our respective countries, what it means to our peoples," said Mr Bush.

Human rights avoided

But human rights groups say that Dr Mahathir is using the US-led campaign as an excuse to wipe out legitimate Islamic political opposition at home.

The Washington-based group Human Rights Watch had urged Mr Bush to impress on Dr Mahathir "that the fight against terrorism does not give Malaysia a blank check to suppress political dissent and deny fundamental human rights".

It also condemned Malaysia's use of its repressive Internal Security Act, which allows authorities to indefinitely detain people without trial.

And Amnesty International called on Mr Bush to "seek assurances from Prime Minister Mahathir of respect for judicial independence, an end to politically motivated prosecutions and an end to the use of torture".

Our correspondent says Mr Bush carefully avoided any mention of Malaysia's human rights record.

But she adds that Dr Mahathir's outspoken comments about democracy and human rights are unlikely to have won him much support in Washington.

See also:

07 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
South-East Asia's terror clampdown
15 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysian row over TV 'propaganda'
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
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