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Attacks on Christian churches raise concerns in Malaysia

Tuesday, January 12, 2010; A06

MALAYSIA

Fears over attacks on Christian churches

Malaysia sought Monday to contain attacks on Christian churches and allay international concerns amid fears that the violence could polarize the country's multiracial society and deter overseas investors.

Police are investigating at least 10 acts of violence in the past four days, including several arson attacks, all believed to be prompted by a Dec. 31 court ruling allowing a Catholic newspaper to use the Arabic word "Allah" to refer to God in its Malay-language section.

"These outrageous incidents are acts of extremism and designed to weaken our diverse communities' shared commitment to strengthen racial unity," Mahmood Adam, the Home Ministry's secretary general, told reporters after briefing foreign diplomats in Putrajaya, near Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia has been largely free of the violence by Islamist groups that has fueled insurgencies in the Philippines and Thailand and attacks on Western targets in Indonesia. Some fear that stability may be threatened by the politicization of religion as political parties vie for the votes of the country's Muslim majority.

Monday morning, scorch marks were found on the main entrance door of a church in Seremban, Negri Sembilan state, the Star newspaper reported, citing police. Molotov cocktails hit a church and convent without causing significant damage in separate incidents Sunday.

-- Bloomberg News

ISRAEL

Fences ordered on Egyptian border

Israel's prime minister has ordered the construction of two massive fences along the long and porous southern border with Egypt, saying he wants to stem a growing flood of African asylum seekers and to prevent Islamist militants from entering the country.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the structure would help preserve Israel's Jewish majority, while providing a layer of protection along an open border with an area suspected of having an al-Qaeda presence.

The two fences will cover nearly half of the 150-mile border. One section will be near the Red Sea port of Eilat. The other will be in southwest Israel, near the Gaza Strip town of Rafah.

Government spokesman Mark Regev said government ministers approved the plan Sunday evening. He said no start date has been set, and it is unclear how long the construction would take. The project is expected to cost about $400 million, according to local media reports.

-- Associated Press

Pyramid builders' tombs found: Egypt displayed newly discovered tombs that are more than 4,000 years old and said they belonged to people who worked on the pyramids of Giza, presenting the discovery as more evidence that slaves did not build the ancient monuments. The series of modest nine-foot-deep shafts held a dozen skeletons, perfectly preserved by dry desert sand along with jars that once contained beer and bread meant for the afterlife.

Algeria objects to U.S. airport measure: Algeria's foreign minister summoned the U.S. ambassador to protest Algeria's inclusion on a list of countries whose flights bound for the United States will be subject to extra security checks, state media reported. The North African country is fighting an al-Qaeda-linked insurgency, but the violence has subsided significantly in the past few years, and officials say stringent security measures are in place, especially at airports.

A democracy appeal in Hong Kong: Five Hong Kong opposition lawmakers will resign this month, triggering by-elections that they hope to turn into an unofficial referendum on democratic reform in the Chinese territory, two political parties said. The two opposition parties want direct elections to begin in 2012 and have urged residents to vote for their candidates in special elections if they support that plan.

Long sentences for Georgian protests: More than a dozen soldiers and civilians were given lengthy jail terms in Georgia for involvement in a military rebellion during street protests last year against President Mikheil Saakashvili. The brief, bloodless mutiny at the Mukhrovani tank base near the capital, Tbilisi, on May 5 underscored concern over the loyalty of Georgia's armed forces, coming nine months after they were routed in a five-day war with Russia.

-- From news services

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