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Will look into ethnic Indians' demands: Malaysian PM
Jaishree Balasubramanian in Kuala Lumpur | December 19, 2007 17:10 IST
Persisting with his reconciliatory tone towards the ethnic Indian community, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has said he will look into their demand for setting up a separate department for non-Muslim affairs in this predominantly Islamic country.
"We will study and see if we need to set up another body to look after the affairs of the non-Muslims," he said referring to the demand raised by ethnic-Indian NGOs following protests from the community against alleged marginalisation.
Abdullah said there were already various government committees and panels in existence that look after the affairs of non-Muslims in this multi-ethnic, multi-religious country.
"For the time being, this is quite effective and we have always been addressing the problems brought up by followers of different faiths," the premier was quoted as saying by Star newspaper today.
"In fact, we have always looked after the interests of non-Muslims and paid attention to any issue they may bring up to us," he added.
A November 25 rally by ethnic Indians had triggered a sharp reaction from Abdullah, who accused the protesters of trying to create chaos in the country. He also said that the actions of the five Hindraf leaders, held under the controversial Internal Security Act, could be deemed as treachery.
Softening his stance, Abdullah later met ethnic Indian organisations and promised equal opportunities to all communities. The premier's statement has come came after Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak said it was difficult to set up such a department as Islam was the country's only official religion.
The premier denied that the government was under pressure to drop the charge of attempted murder against 31 ethnic Indian people, who were arrested at a rally near Batu Caves last month.
"The decision was made by the Attorney-General and I am sure he must have thought hard about what he was doing," he said.
The government has also decided to set up communal mediation committees at the grassroots level throughout the country from early next year to ensure that racial problems were resolved before they escalated out of control.
These committees will work with the police and try to defuse any racial tension that may arise, National Unity and Integration Department director-general Azman Amin Hassan was quoted in the media as saying.
"The committees have been given the task of achieving a win-win situation for all the parties concerned," said Azman. Pilot projects will take off in Penang, the Federal Territory, Selangor and Johor.
"We are told that these are the states which have the most racial problems," said Azman.