Deputy Internal Security Minister Noh Omar on Wednesday said his remarks were misinterpreted. "I openly apologise if the meaning of my comments was received negatively," Noh was quoted as saying by state news agency Bernama.

Noh whipped up a storm of protest by saying on Tuesday that he believed police had not violated procedures in making the Chinese woman strip and perform squats in a lockup.

A video of the incident made public last week sparked a national scandal.

"If the foreigners think we are cruel, ask them to go back to their own country... For me, it was conducted in accordance with the rules"

Remarks attributed to Deputy Internal Security Minister Noh Omar, which he denied

"If the foreigners think we are cruel, ask them to go back to their own country... For me, it was conducted in accordance with the rules," Noh told reporters in parliament on Tuesday, according to local media.

On Wednesday, Noh denied those remarks.

"I said that if our country isn't peaceful or if the police are as cruel as what is being claimed about them nowadays, then how could it be that many foreigners live in our country," he said.

Targeting Chinese

Earlier on Wednesday, Lim Kit Siang, the opposition leader in Parliament, urged Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to suspend Noh.

The Malay Mail newspaper said Noh had "lost his cool after repeated badgering" by journalists over the issue.

It was not clear whether the woman in the video is a Chinese citizen or an ethnic Chinese Malaysian, but the incident has bolstered long-standing claims by human rights activists that detainees are routinely mistreated in police custody.

It has also raised concerns that police unfairly target Chinese.

"I said that if our country isn't peaceful or if the police are as cruel as what is being claimed about them nowadays, then how could it be that many foreigners live in our country"

Noh Omar

Ethnic Chinese comprise about a quarter of Malaysia's 25 million people, while the majority are ethnic Malays.

The whereabouts of the woman in the video - shot secretly using a camera-phone by an unknown person - were not known.

The video was delivered to Teresa Kok, another opposition lawmaker, last week, who went public with it.

Also on Wednesday, police interviewed three Chinese women - none of whom were in the video - who claimed they were forced to strip in an open area and perform squats while being held in a Kuala Lumpur police station for allegedly having fake passports.

One of them claimed a policewoman slapped her and grabbed her breasts, while another accused a male officer of making lewd remarks, said their lawyer, Sankara Nair.

He said they plan to sue the police for wrongful detention and mistreatment.

Two of the women are married to Malaysians, while the other is a secretarial student living in Malaysia. All were arrested on 3 November before being released without charge four days later.