KUALA LUMPUR - Outrage was growing in Malaysia Monday over a call by a security minister for police to "shoot first" when faced with criminal suspects, with the opposition branding his remarks as giving a "licence to kill".
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the minister for internal security, made the comment at a gathering with community leaders last Friday to discuss security in the wake of a recent spike in violent crime.
"I think the best way is that we no longer compromise with them. There is no need to give them any more warning. If we get the evidence, we shoot first," the Malaysian Insider web news portal quoted him as saying.
In recent weeks, 10 criminal suspects have reportedly been killed in police shoot-outs.
An aide to Zahid confirmed the minister's remarks, and said he was currently abroad.
S. Arulchelvan, secretary general of the Socialist party of Malaysia, expressed disgust and anger over Zahid's statement.
"I am shocked. It is a very dangerous order. He is giving the police the licence to kill. This is total disregard for the rule of law," he told AFP.
Malaysia is generally a peaceful Southeast Asian country.
There has been a recent burst in execution-style killings involving firearms, however - including a of former banker and a top civil servant.
Police blame the dozens of shootings in recent months on a turf war by gang members they say were freed when previous security laws were scrapped in 2011.
Opposition lawmakers have criticised Zahid's statement, branding it an endorsement for police to commit murder.
"This unprecedented admission by the Home Minister is a shock to the nation. It is nothing short of ministerial endorsement of extra-judicial killings by the police; it is incitement and approval of cold-blooded murder by the police force," opposition MP N. Surendran said.
"Zahid is inciting the police to be trigger-happy when confronting suspects," Surendran, a member of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's Keadilan party, continued.
"All Malaysians are put in grave danger by this unlawful 'shoot-to-kill' method of law enforcement," he said in a statement.
Malaysia recently approved an amendment to a 1959 crime prevention law that allows authorities to hold suspects for an initial two years, which can be extended indefinitely without charge.
The amendment, put in place to deal with the gun violence, sparked a backlash by the opposition and activists who denounced it as a step back towards authoritarian rule.