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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mahathir's Remarks Reverberate

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia -- Malaysia's outspoken leader accused Western countries of using a double standard for criticizing Jews and Muslims, and refused to apologize for a speech in which he said Jews ruled the world.

"Lots of people make nasty statements about us, about Muslims," Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Friday. "People call Muslims terrorists, they even say ... Muhammed the prophet was a terrorist.

"People make such statements, and they seem to get away with it. But if you say anything at all against the Jews, you are accused of being anti-Semitic," Mahathir told a news conference after the close of a summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the world's largest Muslim grouping.

Mahathir was reacting to a wave of international condemnation over his speech to the summit Thursday, in which he said "Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them."

In his speech, Mahathir used allegations of Jewish dominance to underline his chief point: that Muslims needed to embrace modern knowledge and technology, and overcome divisions over religious dogma that have left them weakened on the world stage.

Mahathir said Muslims had achieved "nothing" in more than 50 years of fighting Israel. "They survived 2,000 years of pogroms not by hitting back but by thinking," Mahathir said of the Jews. He said the world's "1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews," but suggested the use of political and economic tactics, not violence, to achieve a "final victory."

"In today's world, we wield a lot of political, economic and financial clout, enough to make up for our weaknesses in military terms," Mahathir said.

The speech was greeted by a standing ovation from the assembled leaders. None of the delegates who spoke to The Associated Press thought the speech was anti-Semitic, but praised it as an on-target analysis of the problems in the Islamic world.

President Vladimir Putin, who attended the summit as a guest, sidestepped the controversy.

"Our idea is that a person of any nationality should feel comfortable in any part of the world. This is our basic idea," Putin told a panel discussion Sunday on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that opens in Thailand on Monday.

Russia is developing increasingly close ties with Malaysia through aviation and arms deals and Putin was careful to avoid any confrontation with Mahathir.

Asked about Mahathir's statement, Putin paused before answering. "We would think that it would be correct if the Russian Federation, with its 20 million Muslim population, would strengthen its ties and its relations with the Muslim world," Putin said.

He said Russia is a multidenominational and multinational country with "certain traditions of interactions between nations and religions."

Mahathir, 77, a senior statesman in the developing world who will retire Oct. 31 after 22 years in office, has long been a leader who takes pride in calling things the way he sees them. He is a staunch advocate of the Palestinians and strongly opposed the war in Iraq, but he also has jailed terror suspects from the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah group.

The United States, Canada, the European Union, Israel, Germany, Britain and Australia all condemned Mahathir's remarks about Jews.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli called the speech offensive and inflammatory. Israel's Foreign Ministry said it was "a desecration of the memory of 6 million victims of anti-Semitism."

Britain summoned Malaysia's top diplomat in London to express concern, the Foreign Office said.

But Mahathir was unapologetic Friday -- stressing that remarks by his foreign minister expressing sorrow over misunderstandings were not an apology for the speech -- and he told the news conference he opposed terrorism, suicide bombings and Israel's policy of massive retaliation in response to Palestinian violence.

"What I said in my speech is that we should stop all this violence," Mahathir said, noting that historically, Jews had sought refuge in Muslim lands to escape persecution in Europe. But since Israel was established a half-century ago, "there seems to be no more peace in the Middle East," Mahathir said. Mahathir said most European leaders -- in which he generally includes Australia and the United States -- were biased and "feel that while it is proper to criticize Muslims and Arabs, it is not proper to criticize Europeans and Jews. Apparently, they think they are privileged people."

During the final session of their two-day summit, the 57 Islamic nations adopted a series of resolutions dealing with conflicts involving the Muslim world, including Iraq, Israel's recent airstrike on Syria, Kashmir and Afghanistan.

In their final communique, they urged a faster transition to full sovereignty for Iraq -- which was represented by the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council -- but toned down an earlier plan to urge a greater role for the United Nations and a rapid withdrawal of American troops, which the council had opposed.

Participants also condemned Israel's airstrike inside Syria earlier this month as a "blatant violation" of UN rules and international law. Israel launched the strike against an alleged training camp for Palestinians following a suicide bombing that killed 20 people. Syria said the camp had long been closed.

In a special declaration, the OIC urged the UN Security Council "to take the necessary measures to force Israel to desist from such terrorist aggressive acts."

They also addressed the need to revitalize their 34-year-old group to make it a more effective advocate for Muslims worldwide.