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Malaysia's PM Gives Farewell Speech - 2003-10-30

Malyasia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is set to step down Friday after 22 years in power. Southeast Asia's longest serving head of government gave his farewell speech to parliament Thursday.

Prime Minister Mahathir formally resigns Friday and Malaysia's titular head of state, King Syed Sirajuddin Putra Jamalullai, is to swear in Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as the new head of government.

Mr. Mahathir Thursday told the Malaysian parliament that he is optimistic about the nation's future and he predicted six percent economic growth in the coming years. He has said he planned to retire several years ago but stayed on in order to restore economic prosperity to Malaysia following the 1997 economic crisis in Southeast Asia.

Prime Minister Mahathir, whose United Malays National Organization (UMNO) has dominated Malaysian politics virtually since independence, dismissed a charge by a member of the opposition Islamic Party (PAS) that his government practices a tyranny of the majority.

He said that the presence of the two dozen PAS elected members of parliament is a sign that the opposition enjoys many privileges.

Mr. Mahathir countered criticism that his government violates human rights by saying he supports democratic freedoms but that too much freedom can lead to anarchy.

The Malaysian leader, who is known for his outspoken remarks, is retiring amid strong criticism for remarks about the Jewish people made at a summit two weeks ago of Muslim heads of state.

The remarks, which were part of a broad speech denouncing terrorism and calling for the peaceful resolution of international disputes, received widespread condemnation in the western world.

Mr. Mahathir said the remarks were misunderstood and refused to apologize. He told journalists he will continue after his retirement to speak his mind.

"I'll be even more irresponsible after I've stepped down from being the prime minister," he said. "But of course not being the prime minister, probably people won't take notice of what I say, so I'll be more free."

However, Mr. Mahathir indicated he will leave politics, saying it is now turn for others to lead.