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Malaysia in Hindu temple vow

Kuala Lumpur, Dec. 24 (Reuters): Malaysia vowed to preserve Hindu temples today in a bid to calm ethnic Indians who complain that their places of worship have been torn down as part of racial discrimination.

More than 10,000 ethnic Indians took to the streets in an unprecedented anti-government protest last month, demanding better education and job opportunities and an end to state demolition of temples.

“I will scrutinise all matters concerning temples with a view to ensure no temples are demolished in the future,” works minister S. Samy Vellu, the only ethnic Indian minister in the cabinet said.

“And if they have to be demolished, suitable alternative sites must be allocated so that Hindus can continue to worship,” he said, adding that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had ordered him to monitor the temples nationwide.

“No temples, either legal or illegally built, will be demolished without a thorough check and discussions with the Malaysian Indian Congress,” Vellu, whose party is part of the ruling coalition, said in a statement today.

“As temples are sensitive matters, a new approach is necessary to resolve them and the mic will take over this task completely,” Vellu said.

Hindu activists say one temple had been pulled down every three weeks on average. Authorities deem temples built without permission as illegal structures.

Around seven per cent of Malaysia’s 26 million people are ethnic Indians, whose forefathers were brought to the southeast Asian country as labourers by British colonial rulers. Many in the community complain of racial discrimination, accusing the government of trying to wipe out their culture by imposing Islamic laws and targeting Hindu temples.

Following last month's mass protest, which prompted India's prime minister to voice sympathy for the plight of ethnic Indians, Malaysia arrested five Hindu activists under a tough security law that allows indefinite detention without trial.

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