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 Malaysia: Ethnic Indian Party Wants Activists Freed In Surprising About-turn

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Registration date : 2008-01-28

PostSubject: Malaysia: Ethnic Indian Party Wants Activists Freed In Surprising About-turn   Mon Mar 31, 2008 7:10 pm

The leader of Malaysia's main ethnic Indian party called Sunday (30 Mar) for the release of five Indian activists, including a recently elected lawmaker, held under a security law.

The move by S. Samy Vellu, head of the Malaysian Indian Congress, was a surprising about-turn after he previously criticized the activists for organizing a rally in November in which about 20,000 Indians protested alleged government discrimination.

Samy, whose party is part of the ruling coalition, said he would meet Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi soon to urge him to free the five leaders of the Hindu Rights Action Force who were detained in December under the Internal Security Act. The law allows indefinite detention without trial.

Opposition parties and human rights groups also have demanded the release of the five men.

Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Friday (28 Mar) the government cannot free the detainees because they are still considered a security threat.

One of the detainees, M. Manoharan, was elected in March 8 general elections while another of the men was ill, so it is "quite reasonable" to ask Abdullah to free them, Samy said.

"This is done in fairness, sympathy, and also we feel that we as Indians have to do something about it. It is not a publicity stint," Samy added.

Ethnic Indians, who account for 8 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people, have traditionally supported Samy's party and the National Front coalition but many turned to the opposition in March 8 polls to protest the imprisonment of the five men.

Anger among ethnic Indians, coupled with public complains over rising inflation, crime and religious tensions, dealt the National Front the worst setback in its 51-year rule. The coalition lost control of five states and a third of seats in the federal Parliament.

Samy, who has been a lawmaker for more than 30 years, was defeated in the elections and later dropped as a minister from Abdullah's new Cabinet but remained the leader of his Indian party.
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