IMAGE: Mahathir
Vincent Thian  /  AP
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, right, with his wife Siti Hasmah, is shown in Kuala Lumpur in June.
updated 7/28/2006 3:28:36 AM ET 2006-07-28T07:28:36

Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was attacked with pepper spray Friday, an attempt he claimed to silence his criticism of the government.

Mahathir, 81, had just arrived at the airport in Kota Bahru, the capital of Kelantan state, surrounded by cheering supporters, when an unidentified assailant fired pepper spray at him.

An unruffled Mahathir spoke to reporters at his hotel later.

"I never experienced this before," he said. "I knew there were some plans to prevent me from speaking."

"I am disappointed because this is not our way. We are in a country where people are not violent. If they do not want to hear anything they walk away," he added.

Increasingly critical of prime minister
Mahathir, who retired in October 2003, hand-picked Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to lead the next government. He has since emerged as one of Abdullah's biggest critics, accusing the government of mismanaging the country and reversing his old policies. Their dispute stems from Abdullah canceling or putting on hold several infrastructure projects proposed by Mahathir.

Abdullah condemned the attack and said he has ordered police to "swiftly investigate the incident so that severe action can be taken against the culprit."

"I am saddened and very angry that such an incident occurred," Abdullah was quoted as saying by the national news agency, Brenda.

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