Malaysian leader vows to obstruct bid to impose Islamic law

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad vowed Tuesday to obstruct an attempt by a state ruled by a fundamentalist party to impose harsh Islamic laws.

Mahathir accused the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party of playing politics rather than upholding religious principles. The party runs two of the 13 states in this moderate, predominantly Muslim country.

Mahathir said that his government would obstruct the Terengganu state government from imposing Islamic criminal law, or hudud. Among other things, women could be whipped 80 times if they falsely allege rape.

Passing the state law would be largely symbolic, since the federal government controls law enforcement and the constitution guarantees secular laws.

"There are no Islamic laws which are unfair and unjust," Mahathir said, quoted by the national news agency, Bernama. "If there are any laws which are unfair and unjust, they are un-Islamic, and it is obvious that their laws are unfair and unjust."

Mahathir spoke to reporters on the opening day of the annual conference of his United Malays National Organization, which competes with the fundamentalists for the votes of the majority Malay Muslims.

The fundamentalist party, which won control of northeastern Terengganu state in 1999, is expected to introduce the hudud bill in the legislature next month.

UMNO is the largest party in a coalition government that also includes representatives of the large Chinese and Indian minorities, who are mostly non-Muslim.

The fundamentalists say they hudud laws would not affect non-Muslims.

Islam is Malaysia's official religion. The opposition Democratic Action Party, supported mostly by ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indians, has criticized Mahathir for saying that Malaysia is a de facto Islamic state.

Mahathir has argued that the Islamic nature of Malaysia makes the fundamentalist campaign to turn the country into an Islamic state a moot point. The fundamentalists say Malaysia is not Islamic enough.