KUALA LUMPUR, May 4 (Reuters) A Malaysian government minister has accused former premier Mahathir Mohamad of meddling in state affairs and, in an extraordinary outburst, accused him of making wild and irresponsible criticisms.
Mohamed Nazri Aziz, minister in the Prime Minister's Department, was responding in parliament late yesterday to allegations made by Mahathir that the government had surrendered sovereignty in a dispute with neighbour Singapore.
''My colleagues and I in the cabinet hope that Tun (Mahathir) will keep his promise to us: that is, that he will not interfere in the administration of the country when he retired,'' state news agency Bernama quoted Nazri as saying.
Tun is Malaysia's most coveted honorific and reflects Mahathir's continued high standing and influence in Malaysian society, which he dominated for 22 years until he retired as premier in late 2003 and handed power to his chosen successor.
Mahathir is revered in the main ruling party and remains a feared political adversary. Many powerful people are still loyal to him, and government criticism of him is almost unheard of.
Mahathir accused Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's administration this week of selling out sovereignty and lacking ''guts'' when it announced last month that it was dropping plans to build a new bridge to Singapore.
The project, to replace Malaysia's half of a causeway linking the two countries, had been conceived by Mahathir towards the end of his reign and was seen as one of his pet projects.
''When Dr Mahathir repeatedly hits out publicly, this would be seen by the public that Tun is trying to undermine the current government, which is a continuation of Tun's own government,'' Nazri told parliament, noting that most of Mahathir's cabinet had continued in office under Abdullah.
In dropping plans to replace its half of the causeway linking peninsular Malaysia to its island neighbour, the cabinet said it would have needed Singapore's approval for the necessary relocation of water pipes running beside the causeway.
And it said Singapore had demanded unpalatable concessions in return for agreeing to a new bridge, including use of Malaysia's airspace for Singapore military training and of Malaysian sand for use in Singapore's land-reclamation works.
Nazri was riled by Mahathir's allegation that the government seemed interested in selling sand to Singapore.
''That is a wild and irresponsible accusation by a former government leader against his colleagues who gave their loyalty to and strived for him when he was the prime minister,'' he said.
REUTERS DH RK0745