Monday, August 10, 1998 Published at 18:43 GMT 19:43 UK
Net rumours shake Malaysia
Rumours about riots in Kuala Lumpur were eventually quashed
By BBC Internet correspondent Chris Nuttall
Rumours of rioting, spread by the Internet, have hit Malaysia's currency and provoked an angry response from the government.
The Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, described the rumour mongers as "worse than cowards" and the national news agency Bernama reported that those found responsible could face two years' detention without trial under the country's Internal Security Act.
Newsgroups, where Internet users exchange messages on subjects of common interest, are reported to be the source of false reports that Indonesian labourers and local Malaysians had fought in a shopping district of the capital Kuala Lumpur on Friday night.
The police issued a public denial, but this did not stop the selling off of the ringgit in international currency markets.
Police seek Web experts' help
The police are seeking help from the Malaysian Institute of Microelectronics Systems to trace the source of the reports. The Deputy Home minister, Tajol Rosli, said: "This is not a matter of just playing pranks or for fun, this is a question of national security and racial harmony."
The authorities say they are concerned that further Internet gossip could undermine the country during the Commonwealth Games, to be held in Kuala Lumpur next month.
"We're warning: those trying to derail the Commonwealth Games are also trying to sabotage the country and we'll resort to the toughest action," Tajol Rosli said.
Newsgroups such as soc.culture.malaysia were full of discussions about the riots that never were on Monday with a number of respondents, using pseudonyms, abusing the government and the prime minister.