27 October, 2008

PM urges Indians to renounce 'extremism'

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi urged the country's minority ethnic Indians on Sunday to renounce "extremist groups" that he said threaten national unity.

He also promised to address complaints of discrimination, came three days after police arrested a dozen members of a banned ethnic Indian rights group.

In a message marking the Hindu celebration of Diwali, or Deepavali, Abdullah called for unity and understanding among Malaysia's three main ethnic groups.

"In the spirit of Deepavali, with the understanding that goodwill always prevails, Malaysians must remain together and not allow extremist groups and individuals to cause tensions to rise," he said.

He did not name any particular group, but his comments followed anger at this month's banning of the Hindu Rights Action Force, or Hindraf, an activist group that shot to prominence last November when it led tens of thousands of Indians in a rare street protest.

Police quelled last year's protest with tear gas and mass arrests. Five of the group's top leaders were jailed under a tough security act that allows indefinite detention without trial.

On Thursday, police arrested 12 more Hindraf members on grounds of illegal assembly when they tried to submit a petition to Abdullah to release their five jailed leaders. Two of them, including a 6-year-old child, were released the same day while the rest were freed on police bail Sunday.

The Hindu Rights Actions Force, (மக்கள் சக்தி Makkal Sakthi) has been declared an illegal organisation.

Syed Hamid, in a statement said the decision to declare Hindraf as an illegal organisation was made following the ministry being satisfied with facts and evidence that showed Hindraf had and was being used for unlawful purposes and posed a threat to public order and morality.

“Based on powers vested under Section 5(1) of the Societies Act, Hindraf from today is declared an illegal organisation,” he said.

He said the order was being made as a result of monitoring and investigation on the organisation’s activities by the Registrar of Societies (ROs) and Home Ministry, since Hindraf’s inception.

Syed Hamid said if left unchecked, Hindraf would continue to pose a threat to public order, the security and sovereignty of the country as well as the prevailing racial harmony.

“The decision to declare Hindraf an illegal organisation is not based on one or two of its activities that are in contravention of the law but covers all the actions it has taken since being formed,” he said.

Syed Hamid said Hindraf had all the criteria of an organised movement because it had filed for registration with the ROS on Oct 16 last year.

The application had yet to be approved but Hindraf had actively exploited the Indian community to organise illegal assemblies and street demonstrations without permits to the point of causing a segment of the community to rise up against the Government and also hatred among the Malays and Indians in the country, he said.

“Hindraf has also tried to secure support from foreign countries for the purpose of pressuring the Government to bow to its demands,” he added.

Syed Hamid advised the public to distance themselves from Hindraf and not participate in any way in any of its activities

Indians and ethnic Chinese have recently become more vocal in speaking out against the government's decades-old policy favoring majority Malays in education, jobs and business opportunities. The pro-Malay preferences were established in 1971 to help close the wealth gap between poor Malays and rich Chinese following deadly race riots in 1969.

Last November's protest by Indians was seen as a watershed in the country's politics, emboldening Malaysians unhappy with the government and boosting opposition parties to spectacular gains in general elections in March.

Abdullah said that the government has set up a Cabinet committee to address grievances of ethnic Indians.

"The government is fully committed to this end, knowing full well that any advancement made by this community, as with the others, will surely benefit the country as a whole," he said.



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