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Wednesday, 3 July, 2002, 04:55 GMT 05:55 UK
Mahathir returns to hero's welcome
Mahathir Mohamad returns (AP)
Mahathir was greeted by thousands of supporters
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has received a warm welcome on his return from holiday, 10 days after he shocked the nation with the news that he plans to step down.

The last time he appeared in public, on 22 June, Dr Mahathir broke down in tears at the ruling party's congress when he told astonished supporters he wanted to quit.


When you are enjoying a real good meal, stop when the food is still good

Dr Mahathir
Three days later party officials announced the prime minister would step down next October and hand over power to Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Speaking after his return on Wednesday, the 76-year-old Dr Mahathir said that when he did leave office, it would be a total break.

"I have already made it very clear that when I leave, I leave completely," he said, during a televised news conference, adding that he would not continue to wield power in his United Malays National Organisation (Umno).

"I'm not going to hold any position, either in the party or in the government."

However, he did not rule out the possibility of standing for parliament at the next general elections in late 2004.

"That is something to think about when the time comes," said Dr Mahathir.

Warm welcome

Dr Mahathir flew in to Kuala Lumpur from Italy at 0800 on Wednesday (0000GMT), to be greeted by an estimated 10,000 people, playing music and waving banners.

He met Umno members and cabinet ministers, before going into private talks.

Deputy PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
Deputy PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will take over
Malaysians were stunned at the news that Dr Mahathir was bowing out of office after 21 years in power. Even his family was reportedly unaware of his intentions.

The large crowds at the Royal Malaysian Air Force Base carried posters with slogans, including "We continue to support you, Dr Mahathir".

Tan Kee Kwong, a deputy minister and member of the country's main ethnic Chinese party, said that many ethnic Chinese businessmen had told him they owed their wealth to the prime minister. "We would like him to continue forever if he could, but we know that's humanly impossible for someone of his age and his kind of punishing schedule," Mr Tan said.

Dr Mahathir will step down after he hosts the summit meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Malaysia in October 2003.

At some stage before that he will take two months of leave in order to hand over to his deputy.

See also:

03 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
25 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
25 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
29 Apr 02 | Country profiles
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