07 December, 2007

China Praised, Malaysia Criticised At Bali Talks

China was named Good Guy at the UN climate change negotiations in Bali on Friday, Malaysia was condemned to join Saudi Arabia, Japan and Canada in the Bad Guys group and Australia and India were told to make up their minds which category they wanted to be in.

Hans Verolme, director of the climate change programme at WWF, was the man responsible for the naming and shaming.

He was particularly critical of Malaysia’s stance, which he condemned as “not politically acceptable.”

He told a media briefing on Friday morning, on the fifth day of the two-week conference, that Malaysian delegates were even questioning the climate change science that underpinned the negotiations and saying that they needed more time to study the scientific reports.

It was a delaying tactic, said Verolme, perhaps stemming from fear that Malaysia might be asked to do more to combat climate change.

Yet other “emerging economies” had agreed to take action, he pointed out, and the Malaysian Prime Minister had been positive about the need for action when he spoke at the recent Commonwealth Summit in Uganda.

He said officials needed to sort out their position with the Prime Minister.

Australia, too, needed to make up its mind, said Verolme. The new government was sending positive signals, such as signing up to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, but it wasn’t clear that the negative line followed by the previous government had been dropped.

[An Australian NGO later told OneWorld.net that part of the confusion might lie in the continuation in office of civil servants closely identified with the previous government’s policy.)

He said he did not believe Japan was serious about the negotiations and he criticised Canada because in Parliament ministers talked about committing to actions that would stop global temperatures rising more than 2 degrees “but what it is doing here in Bali is more like 4 degrees.”

India, he said, had been relatively quiet in the negotiations: ”They are hesitating. I have a sense that they will not stand in the way of an agreement but that they have doubts.”

Verolme praised the least developed countries for “for speaking up in a very constructive way”, but his fullest praise went to China for its positive, constructive, flexible, open attitude at the talks.

Asked why China had dropped what had been widely perceived as a negative stance in earlier discussions, he said that about a year ago the government had decided to get serious about the issue because the country was already feeling the impact of climate change.

-OneWorld UK

Meanwhile, leaders of ethnic rights group Hindraf, which last month organised mass anti-discrimination protests that were broken up with tear gas and water cannons, have already been slapped with sedition charges,are now been accused of having links with Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers, a charge the campaigners said could see them detained under internal security laws.

Police Inspector-General Musa Hassan accused them of seeking support from terrorists, smearing Malaysia's reputation, and inciting racial hatred -- a serious charge in the multicultural country dominated by Muslim Malays.

"Of late there have been indications that Hindraf is trying to seek support and help from terrorist groups," Musa said in a statement carried by the official Bernama news agency late Thursday, without giving any details.

However, Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail said Hindraf was suspected of involvement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) whose campaign for an independent homeland has left tens of thousands dead since 1972.

US congress-appointed panel has called for Malaysia to do more to protect sacred places and bring an end to alleged discrimination faced by the country's religious minorities.

Malaysia urged to protect temples

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom cited the destruction of Hindu temples as a particular cause for concern and urged the Bush administration to raise the matter with Malaysia's government.

The commission's comments follow a protest last month by thousands of ethnic Indians against what they say are discriminatory policies by the Malaysian government in favour of the majority ethnic Malays.

The protest in Kuala Lumpur was broken up by police using tear gas and water cannon and several protest organisers have been arrested.

The Hindu Rights Action Task Force, the group which organised the rally, says an average of one Hindu temple is being demolished every three weeks.

'Fuelling unrest'

In its comments on Thursday the US commission said it was "concerned" by recent Malaysian government actions against the ethnic Indian Hindu minority "curtailing their human rights, including the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion".

Michael Cromartie, the commission chairman, said "continued discrimination against members of the ethnic Indian Hindu minority, including the destruction of sacred places and images, only fuels religious unrest and intolerance".

The government says it does not target the Hindu community and its demolition of places of worship are because they are illegal structures or because land is needed for development.

It has also rejected accusations of discriminatory policies against ethnic Indians.

PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, has accused ethnic Indian activists of stirring up racial conflict and threatened to use a law that allows for indefinite detention without trial.

In an opinion piece published on Friday in the Asian Wall Street Journal, Abdullah wrote that "the right to protest is fundamental, but it is a right that must be matched by a responsibility to respect general public safety".

"This year, Malaysia celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence, what we Malaysians term "merdeka." In this short period, we have achieved much as a nation. Poverty has been reduced tenfold, a thriving middle class created, and the foundations for a competitive 21st century economy put in place. But our most striking accomplishment is that we have managed all this while maintaining harmony within an ethnically diverse society."

While maintaining that he would listen to "all points of view and concerns that are honestly and reasonably presented", he said "we cannot and shall not tolerate those who seek to incite or provoke violence for their own personal gain".

The November 25 protest followed another rally on November 10 – also dispersed by force - to demand electoral reforms.

Together, they have presented the biggest challenge to Abdullah's authority ahead of elections which are expected to be called soon.

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