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Muslims demand Vatican envoy leave Malaysia

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Members of the media surround protesters outside the Vatican embassy in Kuala Lumpur during a protest against the city-state's envoy to Malaysia on July 19, 2013. Several Islamic groups on Friday demanded the recall of the Vatican's first envoy to Malaysia, describing him as an "enemy of the state" after he supported the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims. (AFP)

Several Islamic groups on Friday demanded the recall of the Vatican's first envoy to Malaysia, describing him as an "enemy of the state" after he supported the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims.

Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Vatican's mission in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Muslim-majority Malaysia, after prayers on Friday, urging the government to expel Archbishop Joseph Marino.

Marino, who arrived in Kuala Lumpur less than six months ago, recently elicited a rebuke from the government after he waded into a religious row over the right to translate "God" to "Allah" in Malay-language Bibles and other literature.

He had described arguments supporting the move put forward by the Catholic Church in an ongoing court battle with the government over the issue, as "logical and acceptable".

He was on Tuesday summoned to the foreign ministry over his remarks, and has since apologised.

It was not enough for some Muslim organisations in the country, however.

"Joseph Marino is an enemy of the state. His actions have strained race relations in the country," said Ibrahim Ali, president of right-wing group Perkasa.

Ibrahim has previously drawn controversy by calling for the burning of the Bible.

"Marino must leave Malaysia," said Hasan Ali, the head of Islamic group JATI, who urged the government to close the mission and not to accept any envoy from the Vatican.

The government has argued that the word "Allah" should only be used by Muslims, as it fears using the word in Malay-language Bibles is an attempt to confuse and proselytise.

On Thursday, a Malaysian couple known for publishing a sexually explicit blog were charged with sedition and denied bail after they caused outrage with a prank Ramadan greeting on Facebook that showed them eating pork -- which is forbidden in Islam.

Malaysia has more than 2.5 million Christians in a population of 28 million, of which about 60 percent are Muslim.