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Fadzil Noor, 65; Leader of Islamic Fundamentalist Party in Malaysia

June 25, 2002|From Associated Press

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Fadzil Noor, the leader of Malaysia's opposition Islamic fundamentalist party, died Sunday after failing to regain consciousness after heart bypass surgery two weeks ago, hospital officials said. He was 65.

The death of Fadzil, the president of the fundamentalist Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, threw Malaysian politics into deeper uncertainty a day after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced that he was resigning, then reversed himself when supporters begged him to stay and lead his party into elections against the fundamentalists.

Fadzil's death is a setback for the fundamentalists, who have been under pressure since the aftermath of Sept. 11, when their pro-Taliban statements alienated many Malaysians and strengthened the standing of Mahathir's United Malays National Organization.

The ruling party is increasingly expected to call elections a year early in 2003 in a bid to reverse increases that the fundamentalists made in 1999 when they gained more seats in Parliament and took control of a second of Malaysia's 13 states.

A year ago, Fadzil predicted that the fundamentalists would seize power in three more states at the next elections, which are not required until late 2004.

Mahathir, who has ruled for 21 years, has accused the fundamentalists of promoting extremism among Malay Muslims, the country's largest ethnic group. Alcohol and gambling have been banned and other strict Islamic laws imposed in the states they lead.

Fadzil, who led the party since 1989, was viewed as a moderate compared to hard-line clerics in the party who want to declare the country an Islamic state.

He believed that imposing harsh Islamic laws across the board would bring unrest in a multiracial country with large non-Muslim ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities. His deputy, the more hard-line Abdul Hadi Awang, is considered the likely successor.

Fadzil successfully cobbled together a coalition of opposition parties in 1999 to challenge Mahathir's ruling coalition, but it collapsed last year.

The late leader epitomized a traditional Malay trait of politeness in politics, preferring veiled references over direct attacks. He recently recalled that Mahathir was his family doctor in the rural Kedah state before the two men entered politics.

Fadzil is survived by his wife and eight children.

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