//Temple demolition irks Malay Hindus

Temple demolition irks Malay Hindus

Associated Press, Kuala Lumpur, December 18, 2006

Malaysian Hindu rights groups sought a court order on Monday to prevent authorities from demolishing temples and shrines in the Muslim-majority country.

More than 70 Hindu temples built on public land have been razed or threatened with demolition this year to make way for development, sparking fears about the fate of hundreds of temples nationwide, said lawyer P Uthayakumar.

Uthayakumar filed an application in the Kuala Lumpur High Court on behalf of the Hindu Rights Action Force, a coalition of about 50 private groups, seeking a court injunction to keep authorities from destroying more temples.

"Temples all over the country are at risk," Uthayakumar told the agency.

The court did not immediately schedule any date to hear the application.

The move comes amid pleas by the coalition for the government to declare temple locations as religious land reserves, which would protect them.

Many Hindu temples were built by plantation laborers, without official approval, before the country's independence from Britain in 1957.

Hindu activists have held several peaceful demonstrations over the issue in recent months.

Government officials have defended the demolitions, saying the temples had been built illegally.

The issue has triggered allegations of religious discrimination in the multiethnic country, which takes pride in its racial harmony and discourages overt disagreements over ethnicity-related issues.

Ethnic Indians, mostly Hindus, make up 8 per cent of Malaysia's 26 million people.

Malay Muslims are about 60 per cent of the population, and ethnic Chinese, mainly Buddhists and Christians, account for about a quarter.