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Muslims rally against chief of Malaysia

JITRA, Malaysia (AP) — More than 25,000 opposition supporters gathered in Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's home state Saturday, pledging to end the leader's 19-year control of the Southeast Asian nation.

The crowd, mostly Malay Muslims who were once Mahathir's main vote bank, gathered in a disused plantation in Jitra town in Kedah, the prime minister's home state, about 300 miles north of the capital city, Kuala Lumpur.

"Our political attitude is growing mature," Abdul Hadi Awang, vice president of the fundamentalist Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, told the crowd. "We must now remember to recognize the difference between the freedom fighters and the liars."

An opposition alliance hopes to wrest Kedah from Mahathir's ruling party in general elections scheduled for 2004. They already control two other northern states dominated by Malay Muslims.

Mahathir still remains very powerful and controls two-thirds of the seats in national parliament. But opposition hopes have been bolstered by a victory in a November by-election in a Kedah constituency.