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Malaysian security forces decry racial instigation

Thursday, September 11, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia —  Malaysia's police and armed forces warned people Thursday not to make public remarks that could sour race relations as they try to quash tensions after a Malay politician's racially charged diatribe.

The threat of a crackdown on racial provocation reflects fears that increasingly divisive debates about ethnic issues, such as alleged discrimination against minorities, could destabilize the Malay Muslim-majority country.

Armed forces chief Gen. Abdul Aziz Zainal said "stern action must be taken to prevent" racial conflicts. However, he stressed the military would not intervene unless government authorities seek its help.

Malaysia has nurtured decades of multiethnic peace, but an outcry over the past week sparked by ruling party politician Ahmad Ismail's description of ethnic Chinese as "squatters" evoked memories of 1969 racial riots fueled by Malay rancor over the Chinese community's wealth.

Deputy national police chief Ismail Omar said officials were worried that people have been spreading racial instigation through the Internet and cell phone text messages.

"We are warning everyone, irrespective of who you are, that all statements on racial sentiments must cease immediately or police will take action," Ismail said.

The warnings come after Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi vowed Wednesday that authorities might use a law allowing imprisonment without trial "if absolutely necessary" against anyone who stokes racial strife.

Abdullah also penalized Ahmad, the Malay politician who recently described ethnic Chinese as "squatters" and "immigrants" who sought to "become like the Jewish in America" by trying to dominate politics and the economy.

Ahmad was fired as a district chief in Abdullah's United Malays National Organization, which spearheads a multiethnic coalition government. Police are also investigating Ahmad for possible sedition, which is punishable by three years in prison.

Abdullah's administration fears the uproar among the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities could sap its support amid a threat by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to seize power by luring government lawmakers to defect by next week.

Anwar accuses the government of neglecting minorities in economic, social and religious policies. Discontent over issues such as an affirmative action program for Malays spurred minorities to vote against the government in March general elections.

Separately Thursday, Communications Minister Shaziman Abu Mansor said the Cabinet has lifted a ban on Malaysia Today, a popular news Web portal blocked since Aug. 28 for allegedly publishing racially inflammatory comments.

Bloggers have accused authorities of trying to deter dissent by cutting access to the site, which publishes fiercely anti-government commentaries.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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