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S'pore politicians hit Habibie 'racists' comment


Reuters. February 11, 1999.

ETHNIC Malay politicians in Singapore have lashed out at remarks by Indonesian President B.J. Habibie alleging racism in the city-state, saying the comments were baseless and interference in its internal affairs.

Singapore Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Abdullah Tarmugi said the remarks, coming when Singapore was trying hard to foster racial and religious harmony, were unfortunate and baseless, the daily Straits Times newspaper said on Thursday.

Habibie was quoted as saying in an interview with Taiwan media published and broadcast this week: "In Singapore, if you are a Malay, you can never become a military officer.

"They are the real racists, not here. You can go and check it out."

If Habibie came to Singapore to check on his own charges, said Abdullah: "He will, contrary to his view, see that there are Malay officers in the Singapore Armed Forces."

Five other Malay parliamentarians also criticised Habibie for his comments, the Straits Times said.

Yatiman Yusof said he suspected Habibie's remarks were aimed at "undermining the stability of multiracial Singapore" because they came during the region's current economic difficulties.

"We do not need outsiders, including people like President Habibie, to interefere," he said.

Ahmad Magad said: "I think we should not succumb to any proposition by foreign elements who will try time and again to test our style of democracy.

Habibie made the comments while defending Indonesia's treatment of ethnic Chinese, saying there was no discrimination against them as racist policies had been abolished.

Chinese are a small minority in Indonesia but have been repeated targets of mob attacks over their perceived wealth.

In Singapore, Chinese account for about 77 percent of citizens and Malays about 14 percent.

Habibie was also taken to task on Wednesday by the tabloid New Paper, like the Straits Times part of the government-linked Singapore Press Holdings publishing monopoly.

The New Paper ran a commentary, pictures of a Malay lieutenant-colonel and air force pilot and data showing increasing numbers of Malay officers in the Singapore military.

Indonesian Education Minister Juwono Sudarsono, visiting Singapore for a conference, defended Habibie on Wednesday.

"I think Singaporean leaders understand that President Habibie has a lot of learning and unlearning to do about Singapore," Singapore state television quoted Juwono as saying.

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