Regime renews poll vow
The government pledged again yesterday to hold “free and fair” democratic elections in March next year — after months of serious doubt among foreign governments and observers. Australia, New Zealand, the US and the EU have called on the regime to honor its commitment to hold elections by no later than the end of March. Fijian Foreign Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau made the commitment when he spoke yesterday to Melanesian Spearhead Group foreign ministers from Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands in Port Vila.
Gas leak fells over 100
About a hundred people were taken to hospital after inhaling chlorine leaking at the site of carmaker Tata Motors in east India, an official said yesterday. The gas leaked from an abandoned chlorine tank at a water treatment plant at the company township in Jamshedpur in eastern Jharkhand state, Deputy Commissioner Ravindra Agarwal said. Most of the affected people were sent home after being given first aid late on Tuesday, but about 20 were still undergoing treatment, the official said. The gas leak had been plugged, Tata Motors said in a statement.
■ SOUTH KOREA
Police detain protesters
Police detained more than 100 protesters yesterday after they took part in a nighttime rally against resuming beef imports from the US. It was the largest number taken into custody so far amid weeks of demonstrations that have stymied the government’s plan to end restrictions on imports of US beef amid fears of mad cow disease. A total of 113 people were apprehended and were being questioned, a Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency officer said on condition of anonymity.
Selangor rejects PM's mantra
Selangor has barred mosques and other Islamic institutes from promoting Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s concept of Islam because it distorts religious precepts, an official said yesterday. The move by Selangor is a big slap to Abdullah, a Muslim scholar who introduced the phrase “Islam Hadhari,” or “civilizational Islam,” after he took power in 2003 to explain the religious teachings that guided his administration. The concept, which seeks to promote progressive Islam, includes principles such as mastery of knowledge and economic development. But the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party accuses Abdullah of exploiting vague terms to make the government seem more progressive to boost its popularity among the country’s Muslim majority. It says Islam Hadhari is losing sight of spiritualism and giving an unbalanced perspective of Islam in its quest for economic development at all costs.
Council vote called racist
The Forum on Australia’s Islamic Relations said a Sydney council’s refusal to allow an Islamic school to be set up in its area was a “victory for racism.” Camden Council unanimously rejected the application for a 1,200-pupil school on Tuesday night, prompting cheers from hundreds of residents who attended the meeting. The council said the decision was based on planning issues, but the proposal sparked ugly protests, including two pigs’ heads impaled on spikes at the school site last November. Resident Kate McCulloch said Muslims were not welcome in the area. “We just don’t want Muslim people in Camden,” she said. “We don’t want them not only here, we don’t want them in Australia.”