Saturday, 27 July 2002

Racial integration in Malaysia declining - Mahathir


KUALA LUMPUR, July 27 (Reuters) - Racial integration in Malaysia has deteriorated and extremism is on the rise, threatening to spark violence, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Saturday.
"It's getting worse among the younger generation," he said after opening the annual general meeting of the Malaysian Chinese Association, the largest Chinese party in the ruling coalition.
"When (races) push their extremists ways, then the other races respond by becoming extreme also. As a result, the racial harmony in this country will be undermined.
For decades, Malaysia's multi-ethnic population of around 23 million has enjoyed relative peace and prosperity under Mahathir's Barisan Nasional coalition.
But the veteran leader said the racial divide has widened and extremists groups were gaining support.
"There will be a lot of tension and what happened in 1969 can happen again."
He was referring to bloody riots that broke out in May 1969 between Muslim Malays, who make up about half the population, and the economically dominant Chinese.
Students of different races no longer mixed as openly and as freely compared to during his days in school, Mahathir said.
"In university, I stayed in the same room with a Chinese student. I didn't become less Malay or less Muslim nor did he become less Chinese," he told reporters.
"But now (students) can't even be together in the same room, or in the lecture hall. The Malays are with the Malays, and the Chinese with the Chinese."
Mahathir blamed the widening racial gap on politics. Government efforts to foster closer ties among students, such as moving vernacular schools closer together, have also met with resistance, he said.
"There is a political factor. There are people who deliberately teach our children not to mix with other races because apparently, if they do they will be different," he said.