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Malaysian PM urges Indians to renounce 'extremism'

Malaysian PM urges Indians to renounce 'extremism'

Malaysia's leader urged the country's minority ethnic Indians on Sunday to renounce "extremist groups" that he said threaten national unity.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's comments, in which he also promised to address complaints of discrimination, came three days after police arrested a dozen members of a banned ethnic Indian rights group.
Indians are the smallest of Malaysia's major ethnic groups, accounting for 8 percent of the country's 27 million people, and are typically at the bottom rung of Malaysia's social ladder. Muslim Malays account for 60 percent and ethnic Chinese 25 percent.
In a message marking the Hindu celebration of Diwali, or Deepavali as it is known here, 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.
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 Sunday 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.