Malaysian Trade Ban: Apologies 'make no difference': Angry government in Kuala Lumpur says that 'patronising' articles in the UK press forced its hand

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BRITAIN can apologise to Malaysia, but it will not make any difference, Anwar Ibrahim, the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, declared yesterday. From now on British companies will not be allowed to participate in lucrative deals with Malaysia, writes Chris Blackhurst.

In an echo of the 'buy British last' policy introduced in 1981, Mr Ibrahim said it was 'not a case of 'buy British last', but more of not dealing with any British companies at all'.

At a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, he blamed the decision on recent British media coverage over the Pergau dam project - one of the deals which ended 'buy British last' - culminating in a Sunday Times article. The UK companies included in the pounds 2.3bn international airport project outside Kuala Lumpur had been told to stand down.

Mr Ibrahim said the Malaysian government did not 'expect an apology - we are just stating our case'. Every single deal with Britain, he claimed, 'creates additional problems and embarrassment for our leaders', therefore there will be no more.

He criticised the British media for its 'patronising attitude and innuendos', accusing it of targeting developing countries, particularly Muslim-led, and accusing their governments of being incompetent and their leaders corrupt.

The Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, would not be suing the Sunday Times over the article, which his deputy described as 'maliciously tendentious', and coming from a 'gullible' source. It was 'the most recent example of the international media's incorrigible and condescending attitude towards developing countries and their leaders'. He said that he was personally 'disgusted' with the attack on Dr Mahatir, who had not amassed personal wealth.

The Malaysian government refused to disclose the contents of a communication from Mr Major. All Mr Ibrahim would say was that it was 'polite'.

Mr Ibrahim stressed the British government was not being held responsible for what had occurred. 'The real problem is that any deal with British companies should be open to scrutiny and accountability which are acceptable. But the presumption they are shady creates problems for us and the Malaysian public.'

There were inquiries by House of Commons committees on Pergau and questions had been asked about the airport contract and the confidential memorandum of understanding which led to the pounds 1.8bn arms sales order with British Aerospace and GEC.

'The foreign media must learn the fact that many developing countries, including a country led by a brown Muslim, have the ability to manage their own affairs successfully,' Mr Ibrahim said.

(Photograph omitted)