Sunday, December 16, 2007

Malaysia Asks Indians to List Grievances

By VIJAY JOSHI – 2 hours ago

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The prime minister of Malaysia intervened to head off rising anger among the Southeast Asian country's ethnic Indian population after a rare public rally involving 20,000 protesters led to violent clashes with police.

Premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi asked the protesters to list their grievances after meeting with community leaders

Abdullah "assured us that he will personally address the issues," Indian representative A. Rajaretnam said Sunday.

The Federation of Malaysian Indian Organizations will prepare a report for Abdullah within a month. The Indians cite a lack of government funding for Indian schools and the destruction of Hindu temples by authorities in this Muslim-majority nation among their grievances.
Ethnic Indians make up about 8 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people, and most are at the bottom of the country's social and economic ladder.

Malay Muslims comprise about 60 percent of the population, and control the government. Ethnic Chinese account for about a quarter and dominate business.

After simmering under the surface for decades, the Indians' anger erupted on Nov. 25 when thousands poured onto the streets in defiance of a government ban. Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the demonstrators. More than 100 people were charged with illegal assembly, and 31 others face trial accused of the attempted murder of a policeman who suffered a non life-threatening wound to the head.

Last Thursday police detained five of the rally's organizers under a draconian Internal Security Act that allows indefinite detention without trial.

The government has warned more people involved in the rally may be arrested under the act, but the Indian issue has become the biggest political challenge for Abdullah, who took office in 2003 and is widely expected to call general elections next year.

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