KUALA LUMPUR, July 28 (Reuters) - Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, embroiled in a bitter spat with his successor's administration, was attacked with pepper spray on Friday as he prepared to address a public meeting, an aide said.
A crowd of about 2,000 people had gathered in Malaysia's northern state of Kelantan, which is ruled by the Islamic opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia, to hear Mahathir speak.
"One person, or more than one person, sprayed pepper at Mahathir," said Sufi Yusoff, who was accompanying the 80-year-old politician. "He was choking."
Police in Kelantan said the incident had not been reported to them.
Friday's attack came shortly after Mahathir arrived at the airport in Kota Bharu, the capital of Kelantan, the last redoubt of the Islamic opposition.
Although the former premier briefly had difficulty breathing after being sprayed, he recovered quickly, Sufi said.
"He wants to go on with his programme, but we are reviewing the situation," he added.
Mahathir has become a bitter critic of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's government in recent weeks over his handpicked successor's decisions to scrap major state projects initiated by Mahathir's administration.
The escalating row between the two most powerful men in the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), could unnerve foreign investors and cause a deep split in the party headed by Abdullah, and in which Mahathir still commands powerful support, political analysts have said.
KUALA LUMPUR, July 28 (Bernama) -- Expressing regret over the tear gas incident which befell Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Kota Baharu Friday, the prime minister ordered the police to conduct an immediate investigation and to take stern action against those responsible for the act.
"I regret and am very angry such an incident has happened," Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is also Internal Security Minister told Bernama, noting that he was informed by the police on the incident.
"I have directed the Deputy Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan for the police to take immediate action to probe the incident and to take stern action against those who have committed the act," he said.
The former prime minister who arrived in Kota Baharu this morning for a one-day visit to Kelantan, was forced to cancel his speech to an awaiting crowd at the Sultan Ismail Petra Airport when an unknown person sprayed tear gas into his face.
Dr Mahathir was seen coughing as he stood in a sun-roof four wheel-drive to begin his speech using a loudhailer at about 11 am.
More than 1,000 people had gathered at the airport to wait for the arrival of the former premier.
Abdullah said those responsible for the incident should be severely punished.
He said the matter should be immediately resolved to avoid negative implications and misconception among the public.
The prime minister also feared that certain quarters would take advantage of the incident by disseminating rumours, especially through the Internet.
"As such, the police must be fast in tackling the issue by taking immediate and stern action," said Abdullah.