Sunday, January 28, 2007

"They make a mountain out of a molehill. They just want to rubbish me."

Malaysia's leader says he refuses to be ruffled by 'ridicule'
The Associated Press
Published: January 28, 2007

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has accused his critics of unfairly smearing him, but pledged not to let them distract him from working to boost Malaysia's economic progress, a news report said Sunday.

"I know there are people who are trying their best to ridicule me," Abdullah said in an interview with the New Straits Times newspaper. "They make a mountain out of a molehill. They just want to rubbish me."

Abdullah did not specifically identify his critics, but said bloggers and other people were using Web sites "to create stories" that underscore how online freedom has been manipulated.

"Lies after lies are being told," Abdullah was quoted as saying. "They feel they are free, they cannot be disturbed and they can say whatever they wish to say."

Abdullah's comments came after the pro-government New Straits Times sued two bloggers for defamation earlier this month in Malaysia's first lawsuits involving online journals.

Both blogs feature political commentaries that have included criticism of the government and the New Straits Times' coverage.

Abdullah has backed the Times' right to sue the bloggers, saying blogs are not above the law and their owners have to be responsible for their content.

Criticism of government policies in the mainstream media is rare, and the lawsuits have raised fears that the freedom of online media might be jeopardized. The Times has denied wanting to shut down the blogs, saying it launched the suits because some postings were defamatory.

In the interview published Sunday, Abdullah stressed that he remains "energized to fulfill Malaysians' ambitions" and would silence his critics by ensuring that plans for economic and social development succeed.

"To them, everything is not right, everything is not good. If I allow myself to be distracted by all this, I will not be able to do any work," Abdullah added.

Abdullah was attending the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, and his aides could not immediately be contacted to comment on the report.

Abdullah took office in 2003 when former leader Mahathir Mohamad retired after 22 years in power and hand-picked Abdullah to succeed him.

However, Abdullah came under intense political pressure last year when Mahathir began repeatedly accusing him of corruption, nepotism, mismanaging the economy and compromising national sovereignty. Abdullah has denied Mahathir's allegations.