Nov 4, 2006

Johor sultan calls for scrapping of causeway to Singapore

The sultan of Malaysia's southern Johor state Saturday called for the scrapping of the nation's first land link to Singapore, and launched an attack on "dirty" foreigners.

Speaking at the launch of ambitious plans to turn Johor into a thriving economic hub, the state's Sultan Iskandar al-Marhum said the 83-year-old causeway to neighbouring Singapore was undermining the state's economy and was a vestige of colonialism.

"The colonialists built it to develop Keppel Harbour in Singapore," Sultan Iskandar, 74, said in remarks broadcast live on television.

"Many people think foreigners are great but I think they are dirty," he added.

"If the causeway is removed, then the economy will develop," he told a crowd of some 2,000 onlookers, who cheeered and clapped at his suggestion.

The causeway was completed in 1923 in pre-independence Malaysia and Singapore, then both under British colonial rule.

Carrying piped water from Malaysia to Singapore, it also serves as a road, rail and pedestrian link from the state capital Johor Baru to the town of Woodlands in northern Singapore, and sees daily heavy traffic.

The causeway has been at the centre of a bitter dispute between Malaysia and Singapore, with Malaysia calling for its replacement with a new bridge until dropping those plans in April this year.

Malaysians complain the height of the causeway limits shipping traffic to Malaysian ports and argue a new bridge would allow ships easier access.

"Let ships go through," said Sultan Iskandar, who was flanked by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi at the launch.

Sultan Iskandar, one of the few outspoken members of Malaysia's royalty, is the hereditary ruler of Johor and has a mostly ceremonial role.

He caused ripples in Malaysian society last month when he called on former premier Mahathir Mohamad to stop an ongoing feud with the government and "just behave like a pensioner"

Agence France-Pesse

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