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Monday, November 28, 2011

Scarred and scared, these Pakistani Hindus seek refuge in India

New Delhi, Nov 27, (IANS): Sitting hunched with his face cupped in his hands, 42-year-old Shobhamal dreads going back to Pakistan's Sindh province where he has earned the status of a pariah and ''bore the brunt of being a non-Muslim''.

A group of 146 Pakistani Hindus took refuge at capital's Majnu ka Tilla Sep 8 after crossing the Attari border Sep 4.

"I don't fear for my life but for my family. I decided to come here as there is no place for Hindus in Pakistan. Sexual assault, forced conversion, abduction and humiliation is all this country (Pakistan) has given us," Shobhamal told IANS.

Shobhamal's 18-year-old son died of cancer here earlier this month. 

With their tourist visas expired some two months ago, these people from Bagidi community are reluctant to go back to Sindh where, they say, there is no security of their life and property.

Hindus form around seven percent of the total population of Sindh province.

"We don't want to go back. We are outcast there. We appeal to the government that please just give us refuge and we don't want any citizenship," rues 45-year-old Ganga Ram.

Gang Ram has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, requesting extension of their visas and shelter.

They are currently living in 12 tents and share one dilapidated toilet -- but say they don't have much complaints.

"We are happy here. Though life is tough here, it's not an ordeal what it used be in Pakistan. There, you bear the brunt of being non-Muslims," said Sagar, a mechanic, who was robbed of all his tools with which he used to make his ends meet.

"They force us to convert to Islam and threaten of dire consequences. They abduct our children  and loot our property. If we complain, nobody listens. There, even the prime minister is not safe, let alone Hindus," says Mithalal, who is in his 50s.

When this IANS correspondent tried to speak to the women in the community, a sense of reluctance took over. However, a few narrated their ordeal, after much convincing. 

"When our husbands are away for work, we keep our doors locked and live in constant fear. We are not allowed to wear vermillion on our foreheads," said Rukmini.    
            
"We don't eat our food until our children come back as you never know they might be kidnapped or circumcised," said a woman, refusing to reveal her identity.

Kit Siang warns of ‘disaster’ if assembly law passed

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 28 — Lim Kit Siang warned Datuk Seri Najib Razak today of a “political disaster” if he insists on pushing the Peaceful Assembly Bill through Parliament without public consultation.

Echoing calls from civil society groups and other opposition lawmakers, the senior DAP MP said Najib should withdraw the Bill before tomorrow’s debate and form a parliamentary select committee (PSC) to look into public recommendations for amendments.

“Najib should be forewarned that he is heading for another political disaster after his July 9 Bersih 2.0 misjudgment if he rejects the proposal for a PSC on the Bill,” Lim (picture) said in a statement.

“I call on him to reconsider the decision to force the Bill through all three readings in the Dewan Rakyat tomorrow as it will be proof that he has not learnt the lessons of his massive misjudgment and mishandling of the July 9 rally,” he added.

Najib mooted the new law to regulate public gatherings following international condemnation over his administration’s handling of Bersih 2.0’s march for free and fair elections.

Just days after it was tabled, however, his Cabinet agreed to amend several contentious provisions in the Bill after complaints that it would further restrict individual freedom.

But Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and several civil society groups, including Suhakam, Bersih 2.0 and the Bar Council, have vowed to continue protesting the Bill, insisting that it go back to the drawing board to include public recommendations.

Lim complained that Clause 16 of the Bill accords the home minister powers as the “final arbiter” to decide if an assembly could be held.

He said such powers should lie in the hands of the judiciary, similar to the Queensland Peaceful Assembly Act 1992, which he said Malaysia’s proposed law is modelled after.

“The Australian home minister and the various Australian state police ministers have no role whatsoever in the decision-making process on freedom of assembly in Australia.

“This is why more time must be given not only to MPs but to civil society, human rights groups and all concerned Malaysians to study the implications of the very badly drafted Bill by referring it to a PSC,” he said.

Lim reminded the government of complaints against bias and discrimination by the police that was listed in the Dzaiddin Police Royal Commission Report, saying that since its findings were released in 2005 public confidence still remained low.

Among the complaints, he said, were that permits granted to opposition parties and NGOs deemed as anti-establishment had come with numerous “ridiculous” conditions.

“There were also complaints that the police do not seem to be neutral and impartial in the granting of permits, as would appear to be the case from their alleged numerous refusals of permits to opposition political parties and organisations perceived to be linked to them.

“There were also allegations that those attending the events were arrested and questioned as to why they did so and why they expressed opposition towards the government,” he added.

But despite the report findings, said Lim, the police have yet to earn respect as an “independent, incorruptible and professional” force.

Interlok dan Siru Kambam (Bahagian 2)

Mampukah tiga wakil dalam faksyen ini berjuang menegakkan tuntutan yang disuarakan penduduk kampung berkenaan?
“Mengapa pengukir veteran itu begitu bodoh? Mengapa dia begitu mudah mengakui kesilapan? Tak bolehkah duduk diam di rumah?”
Demikian bentak wakil Perpena yang mengadakan pertemuan tertutup bersama ketua panchayat di rumahnya.
“Ini adalah soal maruah para pengukir di Siru Kambam! Kita tidak boleh tunduk kepada tuntutan penduduk yang mendesak berhala itu dipinda atau ditukar semata-mata kerana menghina agama Hindu!”
Demikian pula hujah sekutu Perpena yang hadir sama mewakili beberapa pertubuhan bukan kerajaan (NGO).
Akhirnya, keputusan diambil untuk menyembunyikan surat yang diberikan oleh pengukir veteran kepada ketua panchayat. Pengukir yang sedang uzur itu diarah menutup mulut dan tidak mengeluarkan sebarang kenyataan.
Seperti yang saya nyatakan sebelum ini, satu jawatankuasa khas dibentuk dan ia bersidang pada Februari 2011 untuk mengemukakan saranan pindaan yang perlu dilakukan pada berhala Dewa Shiva.
Pada waktu itulah muncul seorang pakar ikonografi yang kurang dikenali masyarakat umum selama ini.
Dia bersama-sama dua lagi pakar bidang – seorang pensyarah Kolej Siru Kambam dan seorang bekas jawatankuasa pentadbiran kuil – dilantik menganggotai jawatankuasa khas berkenaan mewakili penduduk beragama Hindu di Siru Kambam.
Ikonografer itu bersama-sama kumpulan yang diketuainya sudah mula mengumpul pelbagai maklumat berkaitan berhala Dewa Shiva yang menjadi kontroversi sejak Januari lalu.
Maka, dia bersama-sama dua lagi anggota dalam jawatankuasa khas mula memantapkan senarai saranan pindaan yang perlu dilakukan terhadap berhala Dewa Shiva sekiranya ia mahu terus ditempatkan di Kuil Sivaperuman.
Kalau dahulu hanya alat sulit berhala yang menjadi isu, pakar ikonografi pula berjaya mengesan 16 pindaan yang perlu dilakukan pada patung itu sebelum ia layak diangkat sebagai berhala.
Daripada ikonografer itulah saya mendapat tahu bahawa pengukir veteran tersebut ada menyerahkan surat rasmi kepada ketua panchayat.

Balasan pedas

Maklumlah, pakar ikonografi itu mengenali keluarga si pengukir veteran sejak dahulu.
Cuma, katanya, maklumat mengenai surat itu didiamkannya kerana mahu melihat setakat mana Perpena dan sekutunya sanggup memanipulasi keadaan demi kepentingan peribadi.
Kesemua 16 saranan pindaan yang dikemukakan itu dibahas, dihujah dan akhirnya diterima sebulat suara oleh kesemua anggota jawatankuasa khas yang dilantik ketua panchayat.
“Ah! Dulu, wakil PPI hanya mampu tertunduk apabila mendengar segala hujah kami. Kamu ini pula biadab dan berani bersuara,” tegas salah seorang wakil sekutu Perpena yang turut menganggotai jawatankuasa berkenaan.
“Maaf, saya bukan wakil PPI dan saya juga bukan menerima lantikan daripada ketua panchayat untuk duduk diam seperti pak turut.”
Demikian khabarnya balasan pedas yang diberikan oleh ikonografer berkenaan pada akhir mesyuarat jawatankuasa itu.
Pada Mac 2011, ketua panchayat yang turut meneliti dan meluluskan kesemua 16 saranan pindaan itu mengumumkan kepada para penduduk Siru Kambam bahawa pindaan akan dilakukan.
“Seperti yang saya tegaskan lebih awal, berhala Dewa Shiva akan kekal di Kuil Sivaperuman. Bagaimanapun, sehingga kesemua 16 pindaan ini dilakukan, berhala itu tidak akan digunakan bagi tujuan sembahyang.”
Demikian diumumkan ketua panchayat walaupun sekutu Perpena yang ada agenda tersendiri masih tidak berpuas hati.
Kemudian, pada Jun lalu, timbul sedikit kekecohan berikutan pengumuman yang dilakukan pembantu kepada ketua panchayat.
“Kita tak ada masa nak lakukan pindaan pada seluruh berhala. Kita hanya akan gunakan pelekat khas atau kondom untuk menutup anggota sulit Dewa Shiva. Selepas itu, penganut agama Hindu di Siru Kambam boleh menyembah berhala itu seperti biasa.”
Kenyataan itu diselar pakar ikonografi dan kumpulannya yang memang lantang bersuara.
“Apa yang dipersetujui sebulat suara oleh jawatankuasa khas pada Februari lalu dan kemudian diluluskan juga oleh ketua panchayat adalah bahawa kesemua 16 pindaan akan dilakukan. Pastikan kesemua pindaan dilakukan atau gantikan berhala itu dengan berhala lain oleh pengukir veteran berkenaan.”
Pembantu kepada ketua panchayat tidak memberikan sebarang jawapan balas. Khabarnya, kenyataan awalnya itu dibuat sebagai usaha meninjau sama ada penduduk Siru Kambam masih ingat akan apa yang dijanjikan oleh ketua panchayat semasa persidangan rasmi di bawah pohon beringin pada Mac lalu.
Upacara ritual
Kemudian, menyedari bahawa sekurang-kurangnya kumpulan kecil yang diketuai ikonografer itu mempunyai daya ingatan yang sangat menakjubkan dan sukar dimanipulasi, panchayat sekali lagi mengumumkan bahawa pindaan penuh akan dilakukan seperti dijanjikan.
Beberapa individu dari luar – seperti si pemilik kedai buku yang bercuti di Siru Kambam setiap tahun – mengatakan bahawa isu berhala Dewa Shiva di Kuil Sivaperuman hampir sama seperti kontroversi novel Interlok Edisi Murid.
“Oh, tidak! Kontroversi novel Interlok Edisi Murid melibatkan pelbagai pihak pada peringkat kebangsaan,” saya segera memintas. “Isu itu melibatkan Kementerian Pelajaran, Menteri Pelajaran, Perdana Menteri, Barisan Nasional, Umno, MIC, Gabungan Persatuan Penulis Nasional Malaysia (Gapena) dan sekutunya, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) serta pelbagai pihak pada peringkat tertinggi.”
“Bukankah isu berhala ini juga hampir sama?” Tanya pekedai buku itu yang mula-mula datang ke kampung kami selepas membaca buku Unknown Facts About Little Known Siru Kambam.
“Ini cuma isu setempat yang melibatkan panchayat, PPI Siru Kambam, Persatuan Pengukir Berhala (Perpena) dan penduduk di sini. Mustahil dapat disamakan dengan suatu isu nasional yang khabarnya turut dibawa kepada perhatian Yang di-Pertuan Agong!”
Pada Disember 2011, upacara kumbhabhishekam harus diadakan sebagai ritual tahun ini. Maka, berhala Dewa Shiva sepatutnya sudah siap menjalani proses pindaan seperti dipersetujui.
Khabarnya, pindaan sudah dilakukan tetapi tidak secara menyeluruh. Daripada sejumlah 16 pindaan yang dipersetujui sebulat suara oleh jawatankuasa khas dan kemudian diperakukan ketua panchayat, hanya tiga pindaan dilakukan.
Maka, apabila mulastanam di Kuil Sivaperuman dibuka nanti dan penduduk beragama Hindu di Siru Kambam datang untuk bersembahyang, mereka dijangka mendapat kejutan besar!
Saya bertanya kepada pakar ikonografi mengenai perkara itu. Katanya, dia sendiri belum berpeluang melihat berhala Dewa Shiva selepas pindaan dilakukan.
“Tetapi bukankah presiden PPI Siru Kambam baru-baru ini mengatakan bahawa pindaan terbabit sudah diteliti dan pihaknya berpuas hati?” Saya bertanya dengan hairan.
Ikonografer itu tidak menafikan kemungkinan PPI diberi peluang melihat dan meneliti berhala Dewa Shiva yang sudah menjalani proses pemurnian seperti dipersetujui.
“Bagaimana dengan tiga individu – termasuk saudara – yang dilantik mewakili penduduk beragama Hindu di Siru Kambam?”

Dewa Shiva yang belum dimurnikan

Pakar ikonografi itu sekali lagi tidak menafikan kemungkinan pensyarah Kolej Siru Kambam dan bekas jawatankuasa pentadbiran kuil yang dilantik mewakili penduduk beragama Hindu diberi peluang melihat dan meneliti berhala berkenaan yang sudah selesai dimurnikan.
“Bagaimana dengan saudara?” Saya bertanya.
“Sewaktu ditunjukkan kepada saya pada Ogos lalu, kurang daripada empat pindaan sahaja dilakukan. Mungkin pindaan selebihnya sudah selesai sekarang,” katanya dengan nada optimis.
“Tapi saudara belum melihat berhala itu selepas semua kerja pemurnian selesai?”
“Tidak.”
“Dan saudara tidak menandatangani sebarang dokumen mengatakan bahawa saudara sudah meneliti berhala itu dan berpuas hati dengan segala pindaan yang dilakukan?”
“Tentu sahaja tidak!”
Maka, saya sudah boleh membayangkan apa yang bakal berlaku apabila pintu mulastanam di Kuil Sivaperuman dibuka nanti.
Para penduduk beragama Hindu akan tetap terkejut melihat berhala Dewa Shiva yang belum dimurnikan seperti dijanjikan.
Apabila dipersoalkan, Perpena dan ketua panchayat akan menuding ke arah presiden PPI Siru Kambam.
Presiden PPI pula akan menuding ke arah si pensyarah Kolej Siru Kambam dan bekas jawatankuasa pentadbiran kuil yang khabarnya sudah menandatangani dokumen rasmi yang disediakan PPI.
Ya, isu novel Interlok Edisi Murid (mungkin) sudah selesai tetapi lingkaran syaitan – vicious circle – melibatkan berhala Dewa Shiva nampaknya akan berterusan di Siru Kambam.

Turut baca:

Interlok dan Siru Kambam (Bahagian 1)
Uthaya Sankar SB adalah presiden Kumpulan Sasterawan Kavyan yang diasaskan pada 1999. Pengarang ini menulis secara profesional sejak 1992 dan sering diundang ke program sastera di dalam dan luar negara. Beliau memblog di www.uthayasb.blogspot.com.

Death in custody – G Veerasamy (Pandan Indah police station lock-up, 28 Nov 2003)


On 28 Nov 2003, over seven years ago, 52-year old security guard G Veerasamy died in police custody at the Pandan Indah police station.

According to his son, V Suresh, his father had been healthy when he had last seen him at the same police station on 24 Nov 2003, the day of his arrest.  V Suresh was informed that his father had died from stomach pains, but when identifying his father’s body at Kuala Lumpur Hospital, he reportedly saw injury marks on his father’s face.

An inquest into G Veerasamy’s death started on 13 Jul 2004 at the Ampang Magistrates Court.  According to a news report, a doctor from Kuala Lumpur Hospital testified that when G Veerasamy had been brought to her for treatment on the day of his arrest, he had a fractured nasal bone, laceration of the nose and bruises on his back.  Based on those wounds, the doctor believed he had been assaulted.  No further details on the progress or outcome of the inquest were available at the time of writing.

Every death in custody must be thoroughly and impartially investigated. G Veerasamy’s death must not be relegated to a mere statistic.

Based on the Royal Malaysia Police’s statistics, 85 persons died in police custody between 2003 and 2007 alone.

We express our heartfelt condolences to G Veerasamy’s family and friends on the recent anniversary of his death.

Nazri: Peaceful Assembly Bill will be passed on Tuesday

The Sun Daily
by Hemananthani Sivanandam

PETALING JAYA (Nov 27, 2011): The controversial Peaceful Assembly Bill 2011, which the government has agreed to amend, will be debated at committee level before being voted on in the Dewan Rakyat on Tuesday.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said there will be eight amendments to the bill and that MPs could bring their proposals for consideration.

“The (tabling of the) second reading has been done (last Thursday by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak) so we will debate it at the committee level in Parliament on Tuesday and it will be voted upon.

“All MPs are welcome to bring their suggestions and if it is okay, we will include it,” Nazri told theSun when contacted.

Asked to comment on plans by the Malaysia Bar Council which plans to organise a Walk for Freedom 2011: Peaceful Assembly Bill cannot and must not become law! on Tuesday, Nazri said the council is free to go ahead with it.

“It’s not my problem. They have to talk to the police but I can assure that it is not going to change in any way.

“The bill has been tabled, will be debated and be passed on Tuesday,” he stressed.

Nazri, who is also Padang Renggas MP lambasted Bar Council President Lim Chee Wee and his former counterpart Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan for organising the walk.

“We will accommodate any amendments (to the bill). That shows we listen to the people. I would suggest to Chee Wee to register the Bar Council as a political party and stand for elections.

“It is easier if they register as a political party, rather than hide under the pretext of an NGO," he said, before quipping that either Ambiga or Lim should stand in his constituency.

It was reported on Saturday that the government will carry out eight amendments to the bill, including amending the controversial Section 9(1) which makes it mandatory for an organiser to give a 30-day notification to the police prior to holding an assembly in an undesignated venue.

Nazri said the 30-day notification is deemed to be too lengthy and the Cabinet decided to shorten it to 10 days.

“The 10-day notification is required because the police will need to engage with the people involved in these undesignated areas.

“For an example, if someone wants to have an assembly in front of (DAP stalwart) Lim Kit Siang's home, we certainly need to ask him because he’s the house owner so that requires time.

“Also, people cannot simply pick places where they want to demonstrate. What if there is a counter-demonstration? This requires (organisers) to inform the police to protect them because suddenly, if a fight breaks out and the police is not notified then the people will blame the police,” said Nazri.

He however said that people are free to demonstrate at any time at designated areas.

“For example at Padang Merbok, it's a designated place, so people can go ahead…no problem,” he added.

Nazri said following the amendments to Section 9(1), other amendments will also be made to four other sections, which involved timeline of notification such as to parties with interests and appeal to the Home Minister.

He added that the government also supported the proposed amendments to Sections 6(2)(b), 7(a)(iii) and 21(1)(c) which involves the removal of the word "discontent" from them.

“The Cabinet feels that we need to drop that word, the fact that people assemble shows that they are unhappy about something so we have decided to drop that word,” said Nazri.

Meanwhile the Bar Council said it would continue with its Walk for Freedom on Tuesday.

Bar Council President Lim told theSun whilst it is “mildly positive” that the government is considering the provisions to the bill, the reduction of the length of time for various notices required under the Bill and omission of the word ‘discontent’ reflects what is fundamentally wrong with the process of the bill

“It is being rushed with unholy haste into law without adequate public consultation. There is no good reason why this Bill cannot go through the same process of a Parliamentary Select Committee as electoral reforms -- both are important constitutional rights,” Lim said.

He also said that according to media reports, the Cabinet is adamant about prohibiting assemblies in motion or processions, except for existing provision on funeral processions.

“This is outrageous! From our research, we know not of any other jurisdictions, which prohibit processions.

“The government cannot now rob us of this right of assemblies in motion which is presently not prohibited in the Police Act.

“The present prohibition of procession robs us of a right which presently exists under section 27 of the Police Act which regulates “assemblies, meetings and processions,” he said.

Lim said in the United Kingdom, a distinction is drawn between static assemblies for which no notice is required and procession (assemblies in motion) for which notice of six clear days is to be given unless it is not reasonably practicable to give any advance notice.

“In Finland, only 6 hours is required. Even Myanmar now has a Peaceful Assembly and Procession Bill which allows peaceful assembly and procession by holding flags with prior permission from the authorities five days in advance,” he added.

Najib Says "Very Important" For BN To Be Re-elected To Deliver Tranformation

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 28 (Bernama) -- Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak today stressed that it is "very important" for Umno and the Barisan Nasional (BN) to be re-elected in the next general election for the party to deliver the promised transformation.

The Umno president said re-election would also ensure that the nation's vision to be a developed country in 2020 can be achieved.

"We are embarking on this journey -- (of) economic, political and social transformation .... Umno will spearhead the nation's transformation together with our friends in the BN, and we will continue the march towards Vision 2020.

"But we have a little challenge ahead of us. We have to cross the bridge of the next general election. I keep saying it is not unimportant to be re-elected. It is very important to be re-elected. For us to deliver the real transformation, we need to be re-elected," he said.

Najib said this at the opening of the international forum on "Politics of Economic and Social Transformation in the Era of Global Crisis" in conjunction with the Umno General Assembly 2011, here.

Vincent and Danny Tan spread wings in Penang

The Tans are making their presence felt in Penang.
The Tan brothers are involved in two of the biggest deals on the island in recent months.
Vincent’s Berjaya had signed a deal to buy 57 acres of super-prime land from the Penang Turf Club.
Now, younger brother Danny has landed at Bayan Mutiara via Dijaya Corp’s tie-up with Ivory Property. The Penang World City project, which involves a whopping 103 acres of super-prime sea-front land at Bayan Mutiara (between the two Penang bridges) including land to be reclaimed, has a gross development value of RM10bn. (The land was bought from PDC for RM1.1bn.)
Danny has a 31 per cent stake in Dijaya, according to the firm’s 2010 Annual Report.
See this Business Times article.

Arab League votes to impose sanctions against Syria


Cairo (CNN) -- Foreign ministers from 19 Arab League countries voted Sunday to slap economic sanctions against the Syrian regime, officials said.

"All the steps that we are carrying out are to avoid a foreign intervention in Syria. Will we succeed? We don't know. We hope that eventually we will. That's why we keep trying to solve the crisis within the Arab framework. We have responsibilities not only as Arabs but as human beings to stop the bloodshed in Syria," Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani told reporters in televised remarks.

Iraq and Lebanon abstained from voting, officials said.

The foreign ministers agreed to stop dealing with Syria's central bank, to ban high-profile Syrian officials from visiting Arab nations and to freeze the assets of the Syrian government, according to a senior league official who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The league official said a committee would meet Saturday in Doha, Qatar, to work out details of imposing the sanctions to avoid harming Syrian citizens and neighboring countries. It was not clear how effective sanctions would be if Iraq and Lebanon -- two of Syria's largest economic partners -- do not participate.

Egyptian state television reported that Sunday's vote was the first time the Arab League had taken such steps against an Arab country.

Syrian state television said the move "lacks legality."

"The economic sanction against the rights of the Syrian people indicates a halt in trade and economic relations," the state-run network said.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said demonstrators in Syria's northeastern Hasaka province protested the Arab League's decision.

"The participants condemned the conspiracy hatched against the homeland with the aim of undermining Syria's resistant role," the state agency said.

Qatar's foreign minister said officials were aiming sanctions at Syrian's government, not its people. Such steps are necessary as long as Syria's government refused to allow Arab League observers into the country, he said.

"We are talking about a humanitarian crisis. It is not a political maneuver," he said.

On Saturday, Arab League finance ministers recommended that economic sanctions be levied against the Syrian government for its part in a bloody crackdown on civilian demonstrators, a senior league official said.

Before Sunday's vote, the Syrian Arab News Agency called the move an "unprecedented procedure (that) contradicts the rules of the economic and trade cooperation among the Arab countries and targets the Syrian people."

Damascus had failed to respond to a Friday deadline for it to allow Arab League observers into the Middle Eastern country to monitor the government's response to civil unrest.

The slate of sanctions proposed Saturday in Cairo included barring any private or commercial airlines from the league's 22 member states from flying into or out of Syria. The Arab League is still studying that proposal, the senior league official said Sunday.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office praised Sunday's "unprecedented" vote.

"We welcome the Arab League's leadership in seeking an end to the horrific violence in Syria," the office said in a statement.

More clashes erupted in Syria on Sunday, with at least 12 people killed, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria activist group.

State-run SANA, meanwhile, reported that 25 army and security force members were buried Saturday.

"The martyrs were killed in the line of duty by the armed terrorist groups in the governorates of Damascus Countryside, Homs and Hama," the report said.

"The families of the martyrs expressed pride in their sons' martyrdom ... stressing that Syria will remain steadfast in the face of the conspiracy which targets its unity and stability."

CNN cannot independently verify reports from either side, since Syria's government has restricted access to international news organizations.

The instability in Syria has prompted Bahrain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to urge all citizens in Syria to leave, according to the Bahraini news agency BNA. The ministry also said citizens should avoid traveling to Syria for their own safety, BNA said.

Since March, protesters in cities across the country have demanded President Bashar al-Assad's ouster and democratic elections.

The United Nations estimated this month that more than 3,500 Syrians have died in the subsequent government crackdown, said Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Al-Assad's government has consistently blamed armed gangs for the violence.

Saudi religious policeman jailed for molestation

A Saudi court sentenced a member of the Gulf Kingdom’s feared religious police to 50 days in prison and ordered him flogged 158 times for molesting a Saudi woman over the phone, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

The woman had reported the member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice to his office in the western town of Madina, saying he had tried many times to seduce her over the phone.

“He was suspended and the court sentence will be fully executed although he belongs to the Commission.” Alsaudi daily said, quoting a Commission official.

Pakatan won't back 'Malay PM only' amendment

Candlelight vigil protest against Assembly Bill

Pakatan now ready to form federal govt, says Anwar

JOHOR BARU, Nov 27 – Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said today that Pakatan Rakyat was now ready to form the federal government after helming five states following the landmark 2008 election.

He said that if the electoral pact had taken Putrajaya three years ago “we may have been careless” but governing the states it won three years ago provided a “training ground” for the fledgling coalition.

“The party has struggled and suffered not one or two years, but over 10 years. If in 1999 we had won, we were not ready,” the PKR de facto leader (picture) said of the election that followed immediately after his sacking as deputy prime minister.

“In 2008, it was our first test to form state government. If we had formed federal government, we may have been careless. It is a training ground.

“We cleaned out the defectors, the dirty things from the party,” he added, referring to the six MPs and five assemblymen who have left PKR since the 12th General Elections.

Two assemblymen who left PKR in February 2009 had caused the fall of PR’s Perak administration.

Anwar said that three years ago, the party had “no strength in Sarawak... Sabah was a mess.”

The Permatang Pauh MP said gains made in April’s Sarawak state election, where it increased its representation from one to three assemblymen, showed the party is “now twice as strong as in 2008.”

“This is the best opportunity since 1957. This is the best opportunity for the people to rise up and change the system.

“If it is really clean and democratic before the election, it is certain Barisan Nasional will lose easily,” he said of polls that the opposition has insisted must only come after electoral reforms currently being discussed by a parliamentary select committee.

Anwar said this when closing PKR’s national congress here, likely to be its last before a crucial election expected soon.

He led an electoral pact with DAP and PAS in 2008 which made record gains, denying Barisan Nasional (BN) its customary two-thirds majority of Parliament after a record 82 opposition MPs were elected.

Dr M’s prescription for Umno

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has been trying to shake things up a little in the run-up to the Umno general assembly which he hopes will set the agenda for a big win in the upcoming general election.
Dr Mahathir, more than anyone else, knows that the next general election will determine the survival of Umno. He is shrewd, intelligent and strategic, traits that made him such a dangerous man to his opponents. Part of Dr Mahathir’s longevity has been his talent for reading the ground and his reading is, to quote him, “not good”.
By JOCELINE TAN, The Star
TUN Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s office at Yayasan Albukhary is like one of those penthouse floors but in a minimalist and masculine kind of way. It is sparsely furnished, with lots of wood panelling and floor-to-ceiling glass windows on three sides and has a 3D view of the city.
It is one of his three offices and the space is big enough for a ballroom dancing contest. But the former Premier was more preoccupied that particular afternoon about the mock trial against two famous “war criminals” namely Tony Blair and George W. Bush that had been going on the last few days on the second floor of the building. The verdict was due in about an hour’s time and the interview was, well, to fill the time in between.
Dr Mahathir had been so engrossed making notes on a notepad that he did not notice that a half-eaten piece of nut candy – he snacks on them when his sugar level dips – was being finished off by a line of ants. His handwriting is a graceful cursive and he must be the only man in the building still using a fountain pen.
Umno on his mind: Dr Mahathir wants Najib to win and to ensure the survival of Umno.
The room was rather warm and stuffy but he seemed to prefer it that way and looked as cool as a cucumber in a business suit, striped shirt and grey tie. He looked remarkable for an 86-year-old. He moves a little slower these days but that has not stopped him from having a packed schedule.
He was in Myanmar recently where he met the president Thein Sein and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi who impressed him.
It is rare to hear him say he likes someone, but he admitted: “I like her. She is nice and friendly.”
When teased about having a weakness for “iron ladies”, he said, “You mean (Margaret) Thatcher?”
Caught him there. Actually, I was thinking of Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz whom he had liked for her fighting spirit.
But the lady in his life remains Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali. She came in towards the end of the interview, walking quietly towards the prayer room, as though trying not to be noticed.
The two Tuns have this subtle comfort level between them and he said in a teasing voice, “don’t interview her”. When she looked up, he made a funny face and she sort of rolled her eyes, smiled and walked on.
Dr Mahathir was due to fly off to India on the morning of the Umno general assembly but has delayed the trip so that he could be at the opening where he is assured of the best seat in the house with a Persian carpet laid out for his VVIP feet. He has been at every single opening and closing of the party assembly since Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak took over the party. He is flying home from India to make it for the winding-up by Najib on the last day.
But Blair, Bush and war crimes aside, it is the state of Umno that is constantly at the back of Dr Mahathir’s mind.
Dr Mahathir is reminding Najib that the bigger headache is Umno. If Umno is okay, the business of governing would be a lot easier. Najib has stopped the decline but turning it around is probably taking too long for Dr Mahathir. — DATUK AHIRUDIN ATTAN (ROCKY)
Dr Mahathir is famous for saying it like it is but he is also an expert at throwing curve balls that have people wondering what he is aiming at. And he is a master of political timing. His remarks about Umno the last couple of weeks have been a talking point among the Umno circle.
The remarks were made with an eye on next week’s Umno general assembly. This assembly will set the agenda for the general election and what many in the party see as the mother of all battles.
Dr Mahathir, more than anyone else, knows that the next general election will determine the survival of Umno. He is shrewd, intelligent and strategic, traits that made him such a dangerous man to his opponents. Part of Dr Mahathir’s longevity has been his talent for reading the ground and his reading is, to quote him, “not good”.
Main issues
There are several issues which he is extremely concerned about in the run-up to the election and which he thinks ought to be settled at the Umno assembly.
One is the issue of winnable candidates. Although everyone in the party has been singing the winnable candidate tune, he knows there is resistance on the ground especially among many division warlords who think they are winnable even though they are not. He knows very few will make way willingly and that there will be sabotage.
“It can be done provided you lay the ground. You have to meet them, explain why it has to be a certain candidate. So far, I don’t see it (the groundwork),” he said.
He is expecting the Umno leadership to identify the problematic warlords, call them in and personally tell them about what is needed to win well.
It is in this context that he believes that if the general election is held now, the Barisan Nasional would not do well.
“But if Umno goes to the ground to explain the danger of undermining candidates, the picture will change. Certain Umno leaders and incumbent MPs and assemblymen must accept that they should not contest. They should make it clear now,” he said.
He is urging Umno members not to be afraid to criticise and tell party leaders, especially at the division and branch levels, that they have to correct themselves.
“When you don’t criticise within the party and the party goes on doing the wrong thing, the party will fail. When supporters outside the party see that Umno is not making corrections, they will reject the party. They say it is painful for them to vote for the opposition but they do it, otherwise Umno will not realise it is on the wrong path,” he said.
He is telling Umno not to be complacent, given the feedback that the Malay vote has returned.
As one Umno official pointed out, he is provoking Umno in his usual diabolical style to “prove to us that you have changed.” There has been no real test to show that Umno has really changed. The warlords are still there, their attitudes are still the same.
“You need internally generated criticism in the party. If you don’t criticise from inside, people from outside will do it and those inside will go out to criticise. That’s why you have Perkasa, formed mostly by those unhappy within the party and (who have) moved out to voice their views. Those who left with me have still not been re-admitted,” said Dr Mahathir.
This ties in with another of his concerns – Umno has moved too fast and too far to the middle ground.
Umno’s strength has always been a result of two groups. The first include the right-wingers and nationalists who hold fast to their belief in Malay rights. The hardcore among them feel disenfranchised and have drifted off into Perkasa. They feel that Najib has not done enough for the Malays and done too much for the non-Malays.
The second group comprises those who understand that concessions have to be made and they are more about the party and less about being Malay.
Dr Mahathir understands that in order for Umno to win convincingly, it has to get both groups back on the same page.
It would strengthen Najib’s position in Umno but his dilemma is how to absorb Perkasa without adopting the same ultra-Malay stance. His challenge is about striking the balance between the old and the new politics.
“Dr Mahathir is trying to inject a sense of urgency in Umno. He is reminding Najib that the bigger headache is Umno. If Umno is okay, the business of governing would be a lot easier. Najib has stopped the decline but turning it around is probably taking too long for Dr Mahathir,” said Datuk “Rocky” Ahirudin Attan, a former newspaper editor and political blogger.
One thing that Dr Mahathir makes no bones about is his adversity towards Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. He has yet to forgive his successor and holds him responsible for what he calls “the destruction” of Umno and the Barisan.
The antagonism between them extends to the level of Abdullah’s son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin and Dr Mahathir’s son Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir who reportedly cannot stand the sight of each other. No one can see any closure to this unfortunate affair, and it does say a lot for Najib’s diplomatic skills in maintaining ties with his two former bosses.
The Pakatan Rakyat side has been going on about how Dr Mahathir wants to replace Najib with Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. The story makes good copy but does not make sense.
Most deputies
Dr Mahathir, said one senior journalist, holds the record for having the most deputy prime ministers and also for having pushed out one prime minister or maybe two, if you count Tunku Abdul Rahman.
“I don’t think he wants to set a record for changing PMs,” said the journalist.
The elder statesman’s prime concern is that Umno survives beyond the next election. Like everyone else in Umno, he wants the party to recover its lost ground and he is banking on Najib to lead the Barisan to victory.
If Najib accomplishes that, he is going to be one of the most powerful presidents Umno has ever had. But if he fails, the move to topple him will begin. Until then, Umno is with Najib.
Said Dr Mahathir: “I want Najib to win. He should win together with the party. As the PM, he has done fairly well, he has introduced new ideas but he must also see the whole picture. He thinks the Chinese are not going to give their support but he forgets that his constituents are the Malays.
“I would say I support him. I don’t expect leaders to be perfect, I was not perfect, that was why so many people challenged me. Yes, he is juggling too many balls; maybe he should concentrate on a few.”
Basically, Dr Mahathir sees Umno as a super bus with lots of people on board and he acknowledges that Najib is the best man to take the wheel. Dr Mahathir is just one of the passengers. He is not exactly a backseat driver as some people believe, but he is definitely a passenger with clear opinions about the journey ahead.
His greatest wish is that the next general election should not be Umno’s last ride in the driver’s seat.

Peaceful Assembly Bill – Najib has probably created world history in the speed with which a “revolutionary” bill becomes reactionary within 24 hrs as to require at least eight amendments

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak has probably created world history in the speed with which a Bill which he described as “revolutionary” became reactionary within 24 hours as to require at least eight amendments.

On Thursday, Najib told Parliament that the Peaceful Assembly Bill was “revolutionary” and “a giant leap” in the political transformation of Malaysia. But in less than 24 hours, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz was directed by the Prime Minister at Friday’s Cabinet meeting to review and amend the “revolutionary” Bill!

This is the latest proof of the haphazard, insincere and irresponsible manner in which Najib is trying to implement his “political transformation” programme – totally at variance with his pledge that under his premiership, the era of “government knows best” is over and that he would fully consult with all relevant stakeholders and the civil society on major reform measures for the country.

The amendments to the Peaceful Assembly Bill, primarily on and consequential to the reduction of the requirement of 30 days to 10 days for notification to the police for any assembly, are not acceptable to give approval to the Bill as they are not wide-ranging enough as there are also other provisions in the bill which strike at the constitutional rights to freedom of assembly.

Apart from the 30-day notice requirement, other objectionable provisions include the arbitrary powers given to the police to impose restrictive and unreasonable conditions for the holding of assemblies, the role of the Home Minister in cases of appeal, the unconstitutional ban on street protests, the list of prohibited areas or 50-metre vicinity disallowing the holding of assemblies, the ban on underaged children and the onerous and crippling fines for offences under the Bill, etc.

The test of whether the Peaceful Assembly Bill is “revolutionary” and “a giant leap” in the political transformation and democratisation of Malaysia is whether the civil society, human rights activists and the political opposition feel freer and more liberated to exercise the fundamental constitutional right of Article 10 on “freedom of assembly” under the new law or they feel more suppressed, restricted and conscribed than even under the regime of Section 27 of the Police Act 1967.

The Prime Minister must take full cognisance that a former Lord President and the country’s most outstanding and longest-serving Inspector-General of Police had both regarded Section 27 of the Police Act as unconstitutional and undemocratic in violating Article 10 on the fundamental liberty of freedom of assembly – expressed in the Police Royal Commission Report of 2005 of which Tun Dzaiddin was Chairman and Tun Hanif Omar Deputy Chairman.

The Police Royal Commission 2005 had recommended far-reaching amendments to Section 27 to uphold “one of the most basic and indispensable of the fundamental freedoms necessary for the functioning of a democratic society and is provided for in the Federal Constitution” but this recommendation of the Police Royal commission was ignored by the Barisan Nasional government for more than six years.

Now we have the Peaceful Assembly Bill with provisions which are even more inimical to the nurturing of a democratic environment fully respecting the human rights of Malaysians to freedom of speech, expression, association and assembly.

Najib has only one option when Parliament reconvenes on Tuesday if he is serious about his latest slogan of “political transformation” and democratisation – to withdraw the Bill or refer it to a Parliamentary Select Committee to engage all stakeholders, the civil society, human rights groups and the political opposition in a meaningful consultation and full engagement.

Agong Advises Malaysians To Practise Social Moderation

PUTRAJAYA, Nov 27 (Bernama) -- Yang di- Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin today advised Malaysians to always exercise moderation in all their practices.

The King said social moderation meant people should act in a civil manner in anything, and not act rashly and cruelly towards anyone.

"The people should also not blow up small disagreements and instead resolve them amicably," Tuanku Mizan said in his speech at the national-level 1433H Maal Hijrah celebration at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre, here.

Also present were Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Nur Zahirah, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and wife Puan Sri Norainee Abdul Rahman, and Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom.

The theme for the celebration this time is 'Mutual Understanding the Foundation for Unity of the Ummah (Community)'.

The King expressed concern with the current social situation in the country, with people becoming increasingly individualistic, although he was satisfied with Malaysia's economic achievements and rapid development as a developing country.

Tuanku Mizan said he wanted to see noble values such as mutual love and respect being fostered and practised from the home so as to create a loving, united society with a high level of mutual understanding and strong sense of oneness.

"I really hope the spirit of good neighbourliness and oneness will flourish again so that the people in this country can go through their daily lives in a state of increased harmony and love for one another," he said.

Tuanku Mizan also advised the country's multiracial, multicultural and multireligious people to understand each other's needs and to respect the dissimilarities.

Therefore, the King said, he wanted Muslims to be best example in applying the concept of mutual understanding regardless of their status and background.

According to him, only with mutual respect and understanding could a truly united society be created in this country.

"We should know and realise that the country's peace is closely linked to unity of the ummah, as it's impossible for a country to be peaceful if there is chaos in its society," he said.

Tuanku Mizan said he also wanted to see the harmony currently enjoyed to be inherited by future generations.

Jamil Khir, in calling on Muslims in Malaysia and other parts of the world to promote understanding and mutual respect for unity of the ummah, said they should learn from Islamic history, especially how Prophet Muhammad could unite the Muhajirins and Ansars as early as during his flight from Mecca to Medina, which led to the creation of strong, united Islamic community at that time.

"Unity begins with mutual understanding with strong religious faith as the foundation," he said, adding that why this theme was chosen for this year's Maal Hijrah celebration.

At the ceremony, Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Abdul Shukor Husin, 69, who is the National Fatwa Council chairman, was bestowed the National Tokoh Maal Hijrah Award 1433H.

He received RM100,000 from the government, RM10,000 from the Ubaidi Foundation, a medal, plaque and certificate of appreciation.

The recipient of the International Maal Hijrah Award 1433H, Saudi Arabia's Haj Minister Dr Fouad Abdul Salam, 65, was, however, unable to attend today's ceremony. He will receive the award at another date.