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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Malaysian ruling party rejects racism charge

Yahoo! News (7/11/2007): Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi Wednesday rejected accusations his ruling party is racist but reminded Malaysia's ethnic Chinese and Indians to respect the "sensitivities" of Muslim Malays.

"The harmony between the various communities and religions in Malaysia is not an optional luxury -- it is a necessity. We have no other choice," Abdullah told the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) assembly.

UMNO's annual talks have been dominated by race issues, which flared Tuesday when a party leader raised the Malay dagger, or kris, in a gesture seen by other ethnic groups as aggressive and inflammatory.

"If we want our religion to be respected and understood, let us in UMNO show exemplary behaviour by respecting the followers of other religions and their needs," Abdullah said in a keynote address to more than 2,500 delegates.

Dressed like the other delegates in traditional Malay dress, he said the party would never endorse a "narrow interpretation of Islam" or breach a spirit of coexistence in the multicultural nation.

"Opportunities in Malaysia are available to all. There is a future for every Malaysian in this country," he said.

However, in a nod to the more fiery elements within his party, Abdullah warned: "Other communities must appreciate the sensitivities of the Malays.

"Basic matters relating to the sanctity of religion, beliefs and practices, Malay interests and the social contact between the communities are sacred to us and should be not be raised."

He also defended a system of positive discrimination aimed at boosting Malays, known as the National Economic Policy (NEP), which has alienated minority groups.

"The NEP was never intended to rob anyone's rights. Although it has been 37 years since the introduction of the NEP, we have not made Malays rich by seizing the wealth of the non-Malays," he said.

The parliamentary opposition rejected Abdullah's assertion and said it ran counter to the reality in Malaysia, including the demolition of dozens of Hindu temples in recent years.

"These are flowery words. How do you show respect for other religions when you tear down temples?" said Lim Guan Eng, secretary-general of the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party.

"UMNO calls itself the defender of the Malay race and religion. But now they need to move away from that and address the issues that affect everyone in the nation."

UMNO kicked off its annual talks Monday with plans to soothe race relations in the multi-ethnic country, ahead of national elections tipped for early next year. (AFP)


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