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Friday, 18 August, 2000, 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK
Row over Malay privileges
Chinese district
More than a quarter of Malaysians are ethnic Chinese
Malaysia's Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, has promised to continue to support the special privileges granted to the country's ethnic Malay community amid a row over race relations.

"The government will not back down, not even by one step, in defending the Malays as we are aware they are still weak," he was quoted by the national Bernama news agency as saying.

Muslim woman walks past Chinese temple
A Muslim woman walks past a Chinese temple
Dr Mahathir was commenting after leading Chinese businessman David Chua questioned whether Malay privileges were still needed, provoking a flurry of protests from the Malay community.

Malays retain certain benefits under affirmative action programmes introduced in 1971. Along with indigenous people, they make up nearly 60% of the population with ethnic Chinese accounting for around 26% and Indians for 7%.

'Cronyism'

The special privileges established quotas allowing Malays to enter universities and gain employment even if less qualified than applicants from other races.

They also allocated 30% of the equity in local companies to Malays.

The policy was brought in to help the progress of Malays who in the 1970s were economically backward.

But opposition leaders said the privileges had often been misused.

Lim Guan Eng
Mr Lim says policy should go
"The government is using [the policy] to give contracts to their own cronies," Lim Guan Eng, national vice-chairman of the opposition Democratic Action Party, told BBC News Online.

"[Millions] gets siphoned off from these illegal leakages. The Malay poor are not getting their rightful share."

Mr Lim said the policy discouraged competition and created a "very unhealthy dependency syndrome".

He said non-Malays were also unhappy that the policy had led to their under-representation in certain sectors.

"Almost 70% of the banks are controlled by bumiputeras [indigenous Malays]. The army and police force are also overwhelmingly from one community," he added.

Protest

On Friday, youth leaders of Dr Mahathir's United Malays National Organisation party (Umno) held a protest outside the Chinese Assembly Hall in Kuala Lumpur.

Umno's Vice-President Najib Tun Razak has also warned the Chinese community against raising the issue.

"My advice to these Chinese associations is not to play with fire," Mr Najib said.

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