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Malaysian Premier Briefly Resigns

June 23, 2002|From Times Wire Services

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Saturday offered, then rapidly withdrew, his resignation from party and ruling coalition posts in what the opposition called a political charade.

Mahathir, 76, has led Malaysia for 21 years and has regained popularity since losing ground to fundamentalists in 1999 elections.

Mahathir was led weeping from the rostrum after announcing that he was quitting all his posts in the National Front coalition and in his party, the United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, in a live address on national television.

Within an hour, Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi returned to tell an audience of party faithful that the prime minister had been persuaded to stay.

"Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is still our prime minister, is still UMNO president, is still Barisan Nasional chairman and is still holding other posts," Abdullah said, using the coalition's Malaysian name.

"I think this is a desperate attempt to fish sympathy and votes, and he may call for an election soon," said Hatta Ramli, an opposition fundamentalist party official.

In other news, Fadzil Nor, the leader of the fundamentalist Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, died today after failing to regain consciousness following heart bypass surgery two weeks ago, hospital officials said. He was 65.

Abdullah said that Mahathir felt "all right" and would be going on leave for a few days.

Mahathir never said specifically that he was quitting the premiership, but officials said later that that was his intention.

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