Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Malaysia's new leader kicks off rule with an appeal for support

Malaysia's new prime minister pledged Saturday to continue policies of rapid economic growth, as his outspoken predecessor Mahathir Mohamad left for a European vacation, saying "I just want to take a rest."

Mahathir, who ruled for 22 years, spent the final two weeks of his reign defending himself against an international outcry after alleging that Jews control the world.

Mahathir, 77, stepped down after propelling this former tin- and rubber-producing backwater into the ranks of Southeast Asia's wealthiest, most developed nations.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi promised he'd keep his predecessor's policies in place and urged cheering supporters to back him in a speech to more than 5,000 people in his native Penang state.

"I want you to work together with me," Abdullah said in the nationally televised speech. "May Malaysia be more developed. May Malaysia be more successful."

Abdullah paid tribute to Mahathir, saying his predecessor had left behind a "truly effective, modern and successful government."

Mahathir's assertion two weeks ago at Islamic congress that Jews control the world prompted a U.S. Senate vote to withhold $1.2-million in military aid from Malaysia until the State Department determines that the country better promotes religious freedoms, including tolerance of Jews.

Mahathir played down the Senate's action, saying that it showed his comments about Jews were true and that Malaysia doesn't need the money. Abdullah hasn't commented.

Abdullah is considered more mild-mannered than Mahathir _ an advocate of the developing and Islamic worlds known for his fiery criticism of globalization and U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Abdullah, who has a degree in Islamic studies, entered Parliament in 1978, holding the education, defense and foreign affairs portfolios before becoming Mahathir's deputy.