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Malaysian leader stirs controversy at Islamic summit opening

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Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

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From the Wolf Blitzer Reports staff in Washington:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- At the largest gathering of Muslim leaders since September 11, 2001, the controversial Malaysian prime minister, who is stepping down this month after 22 years, stepped up to the podium and left little room for interpretation.

"The Europeans killed six million Jews out of twelve million, but today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them," said Dr. Mahathir Mohamad at the opening of the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit Thursday.

The general theme of Mahathir's speech is a call for Muslims to unite. But even his appeal for an end to suicide bombings is laced with references to Jews as "enemies."

"Is there no other way than to ask our young people to blow themselves up and kill people and invite the massacre of our own people? It cannot be that there is no other way. One point three billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews," said the prime minister.

Mahathir has made anti-Semitic remarks throughout his tenure, at various points blaming Jews for his nation's economic problems. But these remarks seem to provoke a new level of outrage.

"For him to call for final victory against Jews by 1.3 billion Muslims ... is a call for religious war," says the director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman. "It cannot be tolerated, cannot be condoned."

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Mahathir also takes aim at Islam, saying recent interpretations of the Koran reject science, technology and general progress. He calls on Muslims to emulate the Jewish response to oppression, think rationally for their own interests and fix their problems themselves. But even that appeal is punctuated by insult. "Of late because of their power and their apparent success they have become arrogant. And arrogant people, like angry people, will make mistakes, will forget to think. They are already beginning to make mistakes. There may be windows of opportunities for us now and in the future," Mahathir said.

A leader of the American Muslim community offered his interpretation. "I will not believe that Jews are in control of the world. So I see that statement as a misguided opinion," says Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

U.S. State Department reaction was swift. "The remarks are offensive, they are inflammatory, and we view them with the contempt they deserve," J. Adam Ereli, Deputy State Department Spokesman told reporters today.

President Bush is scheduled to meet next week at the APEC summit in Thailand with Mahathir Mohamad and other Asian leaders. So far, that schedule has not changed.


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