Friday, 8 January 2010

Muslim groups hold protests in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR : Muslim groups held protests outside 10 mosques across the nation on Friday, amid a dispute over the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims.

Police deployed officers to patrol churches and mosques across the country after a midnight attack gutted the ground floor of a church in suburban Kuala Lumpur.

Molotov cocktails were thrown into the compounds of two other churches in pre-dawn raids, but did not cause serious damage.

Prime Minister Najib Razak condemned the attacks which he said could destroy racial harmony in multicultural Malaysia.

"As a multiracial community we must practise respect for one another... it cannot come under threat from anybody," he told state media, pledging action to prevent any further incidents.

Police chief Musa Hassan said that officers were deployed to monitor churches nationwide after the threats were made to other places of worship.

"We don't know if all three attacks were isolated or linked, we are still investigating, the modus operandi was different at all three incidents," he told a press conference.

Tensions were heightened last week when the High Court ruled in favour of the Catholic "Herald" newspaper which has used "Allah" as a translation for "God" in its Malay-language section.

In a long-running legal battle, the government has argued the word should be used only by Muslims.

The ruling was suspended on Wednesday pending an appeal, after the government argued the decision could cause racial conflict.

In the capital on Friday, a few dozen demonstrators gathered outside the national mosque and another in the Malay enclave of Kampung Baru.

Police said that there had been gatherings at mosques in three other states as well, but they had been brief and dispersed quickly.

"We have lived in peace with all religions but we want other religions to respect us and the use of the word Allah, which is exclusive to Muslims," said organiser Arman Azha Abu Hanifah.

- AFP/ms

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