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Malaysia ignites age-old dispute with Singapore

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Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad works at his office in Putrajaya, Malaysia June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – For over half a century, island-state Singapore has been getting half its fresh water from northern neighbour Malaysia – a deal that could be up for review as the new prime minister in Kuala Lumpur seeks to cut down on the country’s ballooning debt.

In his first few weeks back in office, Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has put the brakes on projects and cut ministers’ salaries to tackle about 1 trillion ringgit ($249.19 billion) of national debt he blames on past corruption.

Now, he has his guns trained on the price of water sold to Singapore.

“I think it is manifestly ridiculous,” Mahathir said in an interview with Channel NewsAsia, referring to the water deal. “That was okay way back in the 1990s or 1930s,” he added, saying he wanted to renegotiate the terms.

Singapore’s foreign ministry said in an e-mailed statement that “both sides must comply fully with all the provisions of these agreements.”

Some analysts say Mahathir’s revival of the water dispute could be posturing. Malaysia faces financial penalties from Singapore if it pulls out of the high-speed rail agreement as Mahathir has suggested it will.

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