Flat Earth: Mahathir and Di

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The Independent Online
I make no apology for returning to the subject of Mahathir Mohamad, the loose cannon of South-east Asia. When the Malaysian Prime Minister enlists the late Princess of Wales in his diatribes, it is hard to ignore.

The story so far: Dr Mahathir, who constantly accuses the West of trying to do down the Asian "tigers" (even though they owe their prosperity to Western trade and investment), now seems hell-bent on driving his currency and stock market through the floor. The Malaysian ringgit fell to a record low after he chose the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to propose a ban on currency speculation.

Malaysians were said to be relieved when the PM went off to Chile last week, but that was not far enough to shut him up. Fresh plunges followed his latest remarks, which included this: "As in the case of Diana, where strenuous attempts are being made to exonerate the paparazzi and put the blame on the dead driver ... the Western press, and even the International Monetary Fund, are trying to blame everything on the governments of the Asian countries."

Er, yes. Just a minute, though: in this analogy the Asian governments correspond to Henri Paul. If Mahathir is comparing himself to the drunken depressive who drove Diana to her death, the markets have a right to be worried.

Smoking tiger

Another current problem for Malaysia is choking smog from jungle fires, no doubt ignited by foreign bankers and journalists. The only people who see a chance to profit are smugglers of Indonesian kretek cigarettes - foul things made of cloves - who are trying to land their goods in daylight under cover of the haze. Two consignments, the latest worth over pounds 100,000 in unpaid duty, have recently been impounded by the customs men.

Nobody knows how long it will take to extinguish the fires, but once you have smelled, let alone inhaled, a kretek cigarette, you realise why the smog doesn't seem to have caused much public protest.

Bite marks

Belgium's accident rate is one of the worst in Europe, mainly because until now they have preserved the rule of giving way to the right, even on roundabouts.

This rule is now being abolished - but in stages. To warn people approaching roundabouts where they no longer have priority, they had the bright idea of painting teeth on the road. The only problem is that many drivers, particularly foreigners, have no idea what the teeth mean.

My advice to anyone planning to drive around Belgium is to wait until they have sorted it out, if you value your life.

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