Malaysia's Mahathir stands down
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has announced he is resigning from all positions in the government and ruling party after 21 years in power.
Mahathir broke the news during his closing speech at the annual congress of the ruling United Malays National Organization on Saturday, The Associated Press reported.
The news was greeted with disbelief and chants of "Mahathir! Mahathir!"
His voice choked with emotion when he said: "I wish to announce I am resigning from UMNO and all positions in the National Front."
UNMO leads the coalition government.
Mahathir did not specifically say that he was stepping down as prime minister, but that appeared to be the case, AP added.
The televised resignation sent a shock wave through Southeast Asia where Mahathir, leader of the nation's 23 million population, has established himself on the world stage.
During his two decades in power, Malaysia has become one of the wealthiest countries in Asia, and Mahathir had earlier earmarked the government's programs.
The news shocked party loyalists, who had been increasingly confident the 76-year-old would lead them in early general elections next year.
"Why?" shouted Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz.
"I have decided," Mahathir said. "It's been a long time."
He was later mobbed by supporters.
Ahmad Abdullah Badawi, Deputy Prime Minister and deputy leader of UMNO, is expected to take over both positions.
Sufi Yussof, Mahathir's press secretary, said that senior party leaders were refusing to accept the resignation.
In a long career championing the economic advancement of the Malay Muslim majority, Mahathir has juggled the country's racial problems while building one of Asia's strongest economies.
Most recently, he has emerged as a moderate Muslim leader in the global anti-terrorism effort. ('Fundamentalist state')
Malaysia has arrested 62 people over the past year who are suspected of plotting terror attacks and attempting to establish a pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia.
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