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Wednesday, November 18, 1998 Published at 08:38 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Reform protests follow Gore's Malaysia speech

Gore said he had heard Malaysia's "brave" calls for reform

Simon Ingram reports from Kuala Lumpur
Supporters of the sacked Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, have protested in central Kuala Lumpur the day after US Vice-President Al Gore outraged Malaysian ministers by praising "the brave people of Malaysia" in their calls for reform.

The Malaysian Foreign Minister, Abdullah Badawi, hit back at Mr Gore saying: "Malaysians do not take kindly to sanctimonious sermonising from any foreign quarter, especially the United States, a country which is known to have committed gross violations of human rights."

Malaysia Crisis Section
Meanwhile around 200 demonstrators gathered near a mosque in the Kampong Bahru district of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

They chanted the now familiar call of 'reformasi' and repeated called for Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to step down. One banner read: "Time for Change, Time for Reform, Time for Anwar".

Dr John Sidell, Lecturer in Asian politics: This is a statement Clinton would have made if he had gone
Last month the Kampong Bahru district was the scene of the most violent protests so far in the political crisis that has gripped Malaysia since Mr Anwar was sacked on 2 September.

Dr Mahathir was hosting a dinner nearby for leaders attending the two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit, which ends on Wednesday.

Trial suspended

Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang: Malaysians must bring about change without outside interference
Mr Anwar's trial on charges of corruption and sexual misconduct has been suspended whilst Kuala Lumpur plays host to the summit meeting of the 21 nation economic group.

Protesters at Tuesday's demonstration commended Mr Gore's speech: "They were very strong remarks expressed by a foreign leader of what he thinks is the situation in Malaysia," said one.

[ image: Mr Gore has received little public support from other Apec leaders]
Mr Gore has received little public support from other Apec leaders
But other Malaysians interviewed said they supported the government's view that the vice president was interfering in Malaysia's internal affairs.

A BBC correspondent in Kuala Lumpur, Simon Ingram, says some local activists have also questioned whether public declarations of US support are in the best interests of Malaysia's reform movement.

One analyst said it could give the impression that the reformers were part of a foreign plot against Dr Mahathir.

War of words

Malaysians on the street say Al Gore was wrong to speak out
Mr Gore's comments at a banquet hosted by Dr Mahathir on the opening day of the summit sparked a war of words with the Malaysian government.

Ministers accused the US of inciting unrest aimed at overthrowing the government.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Badawi: "Malaysians do not take kindly to sanctimonious sermonising"
The statement by Foreign Minister Badawi was the first formal reaction to the Vice President's speech.

He said it was "abhorrent" that the US Government should incite "certain elements within the country" to use undemocratic means in order to overthrow a constitutionally elected administration.

Mr Badawi said Malaysians would hold the US responsible for any rupture of their country's harmony.

US policy

Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Ismail: "I am very happy"
But Mr Gore said he was proud of his comments and said his message was clear - that democracy must go hand-in-hand with economic reform.

Assistant secretary of State for East Asia, Stanley Roth, who is travelling with Mr Gore, said the vice president was simply expressing US policy.

"We make our positions known with respect to these issues in Malaysia, just as we do in every other country around the world," he said.

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