Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Malaysia may ban yoga for Muslims: cleric

Muslims in Malaysia may be barred from the ancient practice of yoga if they engage in Hindu "religious elements" during the exercise, a top Islamic cleric said Wednesday.

Harussani Zakaria, a controversial cleric from the northern Perak state, said the government-backed National Fatwa Council would soon release a decree, or "fatwa", which would decide if Muslims were allowed to practise yoga.

"If it involves any faith or religious elements it is definitely not permissible but if it is just a form of exercise that is all right," Harussani told AFP.

"Muslims cannot practice yoga in its original form because it involves another religion," he said in response to a call to ban Muslims from engaging in yoga.

Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, where more than 60 percent of the population of 27 million are Muslim Malays who practice a conservative brand of the religion.

The practice of yoga, a popular stress-buster in Kuala Lumpur, dates back thousands of years in India, where it was a favorite of holy men before becoming hugely popular internationally, especially among western celebrities.

Zakaria Stapa, a professor in the Islamic faculty of the National University of Malaysia, had called on Muslims to stop practising yoga, saying it could cause them to "deviate from their faith", news reports said on Wednesday.

Muslims in Malaysia practised yoga not just for exercise but also as part of the growing urban lifestyle and involved "chanting mantras while in various positions", he said.

"Why should we look for other alternatives to exercise and search for peace? Yoga could cause (Muslims) to stray from their faith because its movements are according to the style and traditions of Hinduism," he said.

The fatwa council, one of Malaysia's highest Islamic bodies, last Friday banned women from dressing or behaving like men and engaging in lesbian sex, saying it was forbidden by the religion.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Malaysian PM backs heir over Mongolia murder case

Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Monday defended his deputy, who is slated to take power next year, against allegations that he interfered in a high-profile murder case.

"I can't believe that he would be involved in abuse of power," Abdullah told reporters after a political website published an SMS exchange over the case allegedly between deputy prime minister Najib Razak and a lawyer.

"I believe in him that he would be a good person, he would be prime minister and provide leadership," Abdullah added.

The popular Malaysia Today site was founded by Raja Petra Kamaruddin, who has been jailed under tough security laws for earlier linking Najib to the 2006 murder of 28-year-old Mongolian woman Altantuya Shaariibuu.

Najib's close friend, Abdul Razak Baginda, is on trial for abetting the murder. Two police officers from a unit that guards the prime minister and his deputy have been charged with the killing.

Najib, who is expected to replace Abdullah when he steps down next March, has repeatedly denied any involvement in the slaying of Altantuya, whose body was blown up with explosives, and said he had never even met her.

The SMS exchange purportedly showed Najib and Shafee Abdullah, a lawyer who initially represented Abdul Razak Baginda, discussing the case along with possible charges and outcomes.
The site alleged that Najib spoke with police and officials in the attorney general's chambers about the case, "something that suggests an abuse of executive power," Malaysia Today said.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Malaysia's unloved new capital begins to show the cracks

On a hillside overlooking the grandiose administrative capital that Malaysia has built at vast expense, vacant lots marked with the names of dozens of countries lie empty.
It's a diplomatic enclave without diplomats, embassies or limousines -- and one of the most visible failures of Putrajaya, a multi-billion-dollar extravaganza of monumental avenues, lakes and dome-topped buildings.
Putrajaya was the branchild of former premier Mahathir Mohamad who ordered construction to begin on the site of an palm oil plantation in 1996, despite the economic firestorm that swept the region the following year.
Mahathir, who turned Malaysia from a tropical backwater into one of Southeast Asia's biggest economies, was a fan of mega-projects including the Petronas Twin Towers, which was for a time the world's tallest building.
The massive scale, cost and ambition of Putrajaya sets it apart as perhaps his biggest achievement, but less than a decade after it was unveiled, the cracks are beginning to show and Mahathir has joined the ranks of detractors.
"At night it is deserted, because all there is there is government offices. We want to see a living town," he said earlier this year, accusing his successor Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of losing interest.
"When I see broken tiles and broken pavements, I feel saddened," said Mahathir, who envisioned Putrajaya as a triumph of Islamic development, as well as relieving congestion in the overcrowded capital Kuala Lumpur.
"If leaders don't take an interest, neither will minor officials."
Kuala Lumpur lies 25 kilometres (15 miles) north, and clogged highways and poor public transport links make Putrajaya an often unpopular destination for those compelled to visit for business or bureaucracy.
Most government ministries have relocated there, despites the grumbles of employees, but private business has been slow to follow despite government incentives and encouragement.
Mahathir said that not enough has been done to attract the private sector, or the foreign missions that were supposed to occupy the diplomatic enclave that has already been established with access roads, shops and landscaping.
Many countries have bought plots, but so far only the Iraqis have broken ground, and most diplomats have no intention of giving up their missions in central Kuala Lumpur, and their elegant colonial-era residences nearby.
While those in Kuala Lumpur may sneer, Putrajaya's 60,000 residents are generally full of praise for their purpose-built town, with its clean air, wide boulevards and lush parks.
Most are public servants who have been won over by subsidised housing, and facilities like shopping centres and cinemas that have gradually sprung up.
"Initially everyone complained but now they are more comfortable as there are no traffic jams, not like in Kuala Lumpur," said education ministry employee Robiah Kamal, 33.
"The facilities are very good -- schools, nurseries and clinics -- and you don't have to rush for everything," she told AFP at the gleaming Alamanda shopping complex where office workers converge at lunchtime.
Despite the pleasant surroundings and the topiary along the highways, critics of Putrajaya say it was a massive waste of money and that its architecture is grandiose and culturally inappropriate.
The overwhelmingly Islamic-style buildings are out of place in a country which is dominated by Muslim Malays, but also home to large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities, says architectural academic Mohamad Tajuddin.
He criticises the magnificent lakeside mosque as being designed more for tourists than the faithful, and says the prime minister's office, a giant edifice topped with a green "onion dome," is downright arrogant.
"Palatial is alright if you're a king who owns the country, but we are a democracy and we're supposed to be ruled by the people," he said.
"If you want to go and see your leader, it should be easy to do so. If you want to pray, it should be easy to do so -- instead of creating a fortress-like atmosphere."
A spate of problems at the grand Putrajaya ministries last year, including collapsing ceilings and a burst water pipe that inundated the immigration department, raised more questions.
"I feel ashamed. These are new buildings and there are problems. There must be something wrong," Abdullah said at the time.
Tajuddin argues Putrajaya should have been designed in sympathy with Malaysia's harsh sun and tropical storms, with shaded path and breezy verandas instead of baking hot avenues and expanses of paved plazas.
"If you're going to have a kingdom designed to show opulence, it's going to be maintainance-intensive. Things are going to get broken very fast. Landscaping and flowers are all very expensive," he said.
Samusudin Osman, president of the Putrajaya Corporation which runs the town, has heard all the complaints before and good-naturedly urges critics to be realistic.
"People have very high expectations of Putrajaya, they expect it to be world class," he says.
He admits his own children aren't keen on the place and complain it's too quiet, "but for heaven's sake, this is an administrative centre, it has to have some air of formality."
The total cost of building the capital -- shared between the government and the developer -- has never been released but at least 20 billion ringgit (5.9 billion dollars) has come from public coffers.
"There are much better things to do for the money," said veteran opposition figure Lim Kit Siang who dismisses the project as a symptom of Mahathir-era "megalomania".
"My first impression of it was that it was a monstrosity and I don't think my views have greatly changed."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Malaysia's military urges action against race troublemakers

Malaysia's armed forces chief Thursday called for "stern action" against those inciting racial conflict in the multicultural country, after the government warned tensions were rising.

A senior member of the ruling party was suspended for three years on Wednesday for triggering a race row with an outburst against ethnic Chinese, calling them "squatters" and warning them not to seek political power.

General Abdul Aziz Zainal, the military chief who earlier this week warned that racial issues were a "major threat to the country", again called for a lid to be put on any troublemakers.

"I only voice my concern on this issue, stern action must be taken to prevent it from happening," he told a press conference.

"There is no country that wants to see itself in turmoil," he added.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has raised concern about the state of ethnic relations in Malaysia, where the population is dominated by Muslim Malays who live alongside large ethnic Chinese and Indian communities.

"The racial situation in our country looks like it is showing signs of strain and increasing tensions among races," he said as he announced the measures to punish errant ruling party member Ahmad Ismail.

"We for so long have been able to control the situation so that nothing untoward happens, but we can't allow a situation like this to continue... which could affect our peace and stability," he said.

Deputy police chief Ismail Omar also sounded a warning on Wednesday, saying that racially charged statements had triggered a dangerous rash of inflammatory messages on Internet blogs and SMS text messages.

"I am issuing a stern warning to all quarters to refrain from making statements on sensitive issues via the various media," he said, according to the state Bernama news agency.

Ahmad's comments had raised fears of a split in Abdullah's coalition of race-based parties, which includes ethnic Chinese parties that were infuriated by the diatribe.

"The patience of the Malays and Muslims has a limit. Do not push us to the wall, as when we turn back we will be forced to push the Chinese in the interests of our own survival," Ahmad said in a press conference Monday.

"The Chinese should not try to be like the Jews in America -- it is not enough they control the economy, now they want political control," he said.

Malays dominate politics in Malaysia, while ethnic Chinese are prominent in business. Stirring up conflict between the groups is a serious offence in a country which is still haunted by past racial violence.

The latest row erupted as opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim -- whose Keadilan party is the first pan-racial party in Malaysian political history -- attempts to woo the support of enough coalition lawmakers to topple the government.

In March elections the opposition dramatically increased the number of seats it holds, and Anwar this week said he is "on track" to sign up the 30 defectors he needs to seize power.

Agence France-Presse - 9/11/2008 6:22 AM GMT

Monday, August 4, 2008

Anwar gets big welcome

Rapt attention: Anwar addressing the crowd in Permatang Pauh Sunday night

BUTTERWORTH: PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will contest the Permatang Pauh by-election even if he is put behind bars.

“Whether or not I am allowed to campaign and whether or not I'm thrown into the lock-up, I will definitely stand in Permatang Pauh,” he said to a huge crowd at his “homecoming” ceramah at the Seberang Jaya expo site.

He said he chose Permatang Pauh because some of the election petitions now in the courts would take a long time to settle.

He noted that his wife Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail had made clear of her intentions to step down as Permatang Pauh MP to pave the way for him.

“So there is no issue of us suami isteri (husband and wife) cheating Permatang Pauh voters,” he said at the function which was attended by Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and PAS vice-president Datuk Husam Musa.

On allegations that he was buying Barisan Nasional elected representatives to cross over to Pakatan Rakyat, Anwar said he did not have the money to buy the politicians.

Anwar later appealed to the public to donate at least RM1 each for his election campaigns in Permatang Pauh.

He also recalled the ordeal that he spent while under police custody and the medical examination that he had to go through for his sodomy allegation.

“If you have high blood pressure, please don’t read the news or watch the television in the next few weeks because you will be hearing all the accusations that they will hurl against me and Wan Azizah.

“They are doing all the things simply because I want to bring down the fuel price,” he added.

He noted that people had asked him why he was eager to go to Parliament to which he said he merely wanted to reduce the price of fuelwhich could be done.

Earlier in Butterworth, Anwar thanked Permatang Pauh voters for supporting him since 1982.

“You later supported my wife from the 1999 general election and helped her win with a bigger majority in the general election in March,” he said at the PKR Youth operations centre.

Dr Wan Azizah also thanked the voters for supporting her.

“I am vacating my seat not for personal interests, but for our common struggle to create history in Permatang Pauh, for Anwar to lead the nation,” she said in her speech.

The Star Monday August 4, 2008

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Malaysia's Anwar says he may be charged with sodomy

Malaysia's opposition figurehead Anwar Ibrahim insisted Wednesday he will fight a by-election later this year and form a new government despite fears he will soon be charged with sodomy.

"There are thousands of criminal cases not properly investigated. Why pursue this with zeal and in an unjust way? Is it because I will participate in a by-election," Anwar told reporters.

"You want me to withdraw? No. I will continue to pursue the change. Let's see if they want to charge me," he said after being interviewed by Islamic sharia enforcement officials over the sodomy allegations.

The former deputy prime minister admitted that his family and friends will undergo the same suffering they experienced in 1998 if he is "victimised, arrested and jailed."

Anwar has said the allegations of a young male aide, a repeat of charges that saw him jailed a decade ago, have been fabricated to block his plans to topple the coalition that has ruled Malaysia for half a century.

He has demanded that police stop the investigation and called the aide, 23-year-old Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, an "outright liar" who was working with others in power to frame him.

Police, however, have said they will continue sodomy investigations on Anwar despite a leaked medical report which he said had vindicated him as it showed no evidence that his accuser was sodomised.

A senior hospital official Wednesday said the report "looks genuine" and said the doctor who examined Saiful was not a specialist.

Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar said the medical report was part of a whole chain of evidence which police were investigating, the Star daily reported.

"We have to let the police complete their investigations, submit their investigating papers to the prosecutor and let the prosecutor decide if there is a case," the home minister was quoted as saying by the newspaper Wednesday.

Sodomy even between consenting adults is a crime punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment in mostly Muslim Malaysia.

Anwar aims to return to parliament for the first time in a decade if a court orders a by-election near his home town -- the next step in his political rehabilitation after being sacked in 1998 and later jailed on sodomy and corruption charges.

A high court in Kedah state will hear a challenge on August 19, asking it to invalidate the result in a seat that was won by his Keadilan party in March 8 general elections.

Anwar described the police investigations as a "political vendetta" against him and reminded the security authorities that Malaysia was not a "police state."

"They accuse me of being a person planted by the Americans. They accuse me of wanting to sell this country to China. I advise the police to probe (the allegations) based on facts," he said.

Agence France-Presse - 7/30/2008 11:21 AM GMT

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Opposition plan to seize power in Malaysia on track: Anwar

Malaysia's Anwar Ibrahim on Wednesday said an opposition plan to seize power remained intact despite a series of secret talks between one of its partners with the ruling government.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi over the weekend announced his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) had held three meetings with the opposition Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) to discuss issues related to Islam and Malay unity.

Local reports said the move by PAS to engage UMNO without the knowledge of Anwar's Keadilan and the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) had created rifts in the opposition, which is divided along religious and idealogical lines.

But Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, said PAS had assured him that it was committed to the opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance.

"We are still on track. It is not a question of toppling the government but to ensure that the people win. I have said that I am the prime minister in waiting.

"For now, I have no reason to question the intention of the PAS leadership. They have given an assurance to me that the collaboration with the opposition remains and is unchanged," he said.
PAS youth chief Salahuddin Ayub told AFP that there will be no more "secret meetings" with UMNO.

"We remain committed to the opposition pact. We will work together. We will not discuss with UMNO the issue of power sharing," he said.

In April, the three opposition parties announced a strategic alliance after humbling the ruling coalition with unprecedented gains in elections the month before.

The parties, rallied by Anwar, claimed more than a third of parliamentary seats and five of the 13 states in the March 8 polls, handing the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition its worst electoral result since 1969.

Anwar also said he had briefed 38 foreign diplomats from key Western countries including the United States on the political situation in Malaysia.

He also said he had talked to them about the sodomy allegations levelled against him by a 23-year-old male former aide.

He said the claims had been fabricated to prevent him from seizing power and showed he posed a threat to Abdullah's coalition, which has ruled Malaysia for more than 50 years.

A return to parliament would be the next step in the political rehabilitation of Anwar, who was sacked as deputy premier in 1998 and jailed on sodomy and corruption charges.

The sex conviction was later overturned, but the corruption count barred him from public office until April.

Agence France-Presse - 7/23/2008 11:22 AM GMT