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'Lego' mural drives Malaysian authorities up a wall
A man poses for pictures nest to a mural by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic which shows a Lego thief armed with a knife (C) and a member of the Malaysian authorities with handcuffs (R), in the southern peninsula Malaysia, in Johor Bahru on November 13, 2013. A street mural depicting a mugging involving two Lego figures was white-washed Wednesday on the orders of angry authorities in a Malaysian border city known for its crime rate and a Legoland theme park. AFP PHOTO.

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP).- A street mural depicting a mugging involving two Lego figures was white-washed Wednesday on the orders of angry authorities in a Malaysian border city known for its crime rate and a Legoland theme park.

Officials in Johor Baru, which borders on Singapore, ordered the mural by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic be painted over because it harmed the city's reputation.

The mural showed a woman drawn in the style of a Lego toy and carrying a Chanel bag walking toward a corner around which a black-clad and knife-wielding Lego robber waits to pounce.

Aziz Ithnin, an official with the Johor Baru City Council, said the mural was done without permission and amounted to illegal graffiti.

"It's vandalism. The robber gives an image that is not good for our country, investment and tourism," he told AFP.

"If the painting stays, everybody will be scared."

Before the mural was white-washed, a Lego police officer waiting to arrest the crook had been painted on the wall by other artists.

Johor Baru has long struggled against a reputation as a seedy and crime-ridden counterpoint to adjacent Singapore, an ultra-modern city-state with one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

The crime issue is particularly sensitive now that Malaysian authorities have earmarked the city and a huge surrounding area for a massive development zone called Iskandar.

The plan has already lured billions of dollars in property and other investment commitments, including the Legoland Malaysia resort and theme park which opened last year.

The park is the sixth worldwide opened by the Denmark-based makers of the popular children's building-block toys.

Zacharevic has become known for his street art in Malaysia, and also has done works in Singapore, Japan and elsewhere.

It was not immediately clear when the mural was painted, and AFP could not reach Zacharevic for comment.

But he posted on his Facebook page above a photo of the Lego mural showing the later-added policeman.

"Now that's a true vandalism! Malaysia never fails to amuse me," he wrote.

Malaysians have expressed increasing concern over a perceived rise in crime, an issue that exploded this year with an outbreak of gun violence that police have blamed on warring gangs.

However, the federal government, which set ambitious crime-reduction targets in recent years, has released figures showing a dramatic decrease in crime, drawing accusations that it was covering up the problem by tweaking with data.

Senior opposition politician Lim Kit Siang said Johor authorities should focus on crime, not murals.

"The authorities show a completely wrong sense of priorities," he said in a statement.

© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse

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