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Malaysia Gets First New Leader in 22 Years

October 31, 2003

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ Malaysia got its first new prime minister in a generation Friday, when veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad retired and his deputy Abdullah Ahmad Badwi officially assumed office.

Abdullah was sworn in as Malaysia’s fifth prime minister by King Syed Sirajuddin Putra Jamalullail, the titular head of state, in a ceremony at the National Palace attended by Mahathir and dozens of government dignitaries.

Wearing a black tunic and traditional ethnic Malay dress of songkok hat and a woven silk waistband called a pelekat, Abdullah pledged to ``fulfill the obligations of this position honestly and with all my energy.″

Mahathir, 77, had ruled mostly Muslim Malaysia since 1981, spearheading its rapid transformation from a tin- and rubber-producing backwater into a high-tech exporter and one of Southeast Asia’s wealthiest and most developed countries.

He also has gained a reputation as an outspoken and often controversial advocate of the developing and Islamic worlds, with fiery criticism of Western-dominated globalization and the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Mahathir triggered a controversy two week ago by comments alleging Jewish world dominance.

The remark was widely condemned and prompted a U.S. Senate vote this week to tie $1.2 million in military aid for Malaysia to a guarantee of religious freedom and tolerance for Jews.

Abdullah, 63, is considered milder by comparison. While he has promised not to make any major policy changes, some countries and opposition groups hope that some of the harsher edges of Mahathir’s era will be tempered under Abdullah.

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