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Malaysia PM Says Muslim-Christian Conference Postponed, Not Canceled

A Muslim-Christian conference scheduled to be held in Malaysia this week has been postponed, not canceled, Malaysia's prime minister said Saturday. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, responding to
( [email protected] ) May 12, 2007 02:38 PM EDT

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - A Muslim-Christian conference scheduled to be held in Malaysia this week has been postponed, not canceled, Malaysia's prime minister said Saturday.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, responding to criticism by an opposition leader and a religious leader over the abrupt cancellation of the event, said he had asked for it to be delayed so he can attend it.

The Building Bridges seminar, held annually for international Christian and Muslim scholars since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, was supposed to have taken place in Malaysia this week.

But church and government officials said earlier in the week it had been canceled.

Abdullah however, said the conference would still go ahead but at a later date so he could attend what he described as the "important" interfaith dialogue.

"I have asked for it to be postponed. We will find another suitable date," he was quoted as saying by national news agency Bernama.

An aide to Abdullah confirmed the comments but could provide no further details.

Malaysia is currently chair of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the world's largest Islamic grouping.

Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang had warned that canceling the conference would be a blow to the multiethnic country's reputation for religious tolerance.

The Rev. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, expressed dismay Friday over the move and appealed to the government to review its decision.

A government official said Friday that an unspecified misunderstanding relating to conference speakers and participants had caused the late cancellation. He said the government still hoped to hold the meeting later. The official asked that his name not be published, saying he was not authorized to make public statements.

Nearly 60 percent of Malaysia's 26 million people are Muslims, but there are large Buddhist, Christian and Hindu minorities whose right of worship is generally respected by the government.

But interfaith relations have recently come under strain due to several religious disputes seen as the result of growing Islamization and erosion of minority rights.

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