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Monday, November 23, 1998 Published at 10:18 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Malaysia rebukes US over Gore speech

Colourful relationship: Al Gore (right) meets Mahathir Mohamad

Malaysia has summoned US Ambassador John Malott to express its indignation over Vice-President Al Gore's controversial speech praising anti-government demonstrators.

The BBC's Simon Ingram: "Gore's speech unleashed a backlash"
Foreign Ministry Undersecretary John Tenewi Nuek said: "We reiterated Malaysia's position that Gore's speech was an incitement of lawlessness and not simply a call of democracy as claimed".

The rebuke comes after Mr Gore's speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

BBC Correpondent Alix Kroeger: This may provide the pretext for a crackdown
Mr Gore spoke of the "brave people of Malaysia" who have demanded democracy in line with ousted former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim's political reform movement.

Mr Anwar's trial for political corruption and illegal sex resumed on Monday following its adjournment during the summit. He denies the charges.

[ image: Anwar Ibrahim: Reform movement fears backlash]
Anwar Ibrahim: Reform movement fears backlash
Mr Gore's comments unleashed a torrent of outrage from indignant politicians and newspapers amid charges that he was interfering in Malaysian affairs.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad described Mr Gore's remarks as "disrespectful" and "offensive".

Foreign Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawai branded the remarks "unwarranted", "provocative" and "abhorrent".

Saying that the United States would be responsible for any "rupture" in Malaysia's multiracial harmony, he accused Mr Gore of supporting a "form of terrorism".

Support backfires

The BBC's correspondent in Kuala Lumpur Simon Ingram reports that Mr Gore's support for the anti-government protest movement has, ironically, put it on the defensive.

Some opposition leaders fear that Mr Gore's intervention has given Mr Mahathir the excuse he needed to strike back at those calling for his resignation.

Ambassador John Malott defended Mr Gore on Friday, saying he only called for democracy and was not inciting people to violence.

Malott defends Gore

In an interview with local press, Mr Malott defended the vice president and said that Malaysia could not be called a democracy just because it held elections.

"Democracy is not simply having elections," he said.

"Stalin held elections. Even Hitler held elections.

"Democracy is a process of allowing all views to he heard, of allowing the competition of ideas."

Mr Mahathir, now Asia's longest-serving leader, has held power for 17 years.

Mr Malott said, however, that relations between the US and Malaysia were "much better than [people] think".

"In the long-term, I have nothing but optimism for our relationship," the official Bernama news agency reported him saying.

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