Tempers flare after Malaysia demolishes Hindu temple

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 5 (Reuters) Malaysia moved today to calm a simmering row over the demolition of a Hindu temple after a top ethnic Indian minister urged his party's lawmakers to scrap a Hindu celebration as a mark of protest.

S. Samy Vellu, the Works Minister and the veteran leader of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) party, stunned Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi by calling for the boycott, only to retract the statement hours later.

Last week's demolition of a 100-year-old Hindu temple in the central state of Selangor has fanned fresh racial and religious tension in multi-racial, multi-faith Malaysia, where Islam is the official religion.

Abdullah told leaders of his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) about Samy's outburst during a closed-door UMNO meeting today.

''The PM told the meeting that the issue is one of the challenges he has to face,'' said one party supporter who attended the meeting.

The party is holding its annual assembly this week and Abdullah is under huge pressure to tackle rising racial tensions.

The Hindu celebration of Deepavali falls on Nov. 8 and it has been customary for MIC leaders to hold grand parties to mark the festival.

Last week, authorities in the Selangor capital of Shah Alam pulled down a squatter colony and demolished the Sri Maha Mariamman temple which sat in the colony.

The temple and colony were on private land and the owner wanted it back.

A standoff ensued when Hindu devotees tried to halt the demolition, resulting in 14 people being arrested. They were later released.

REUTERS PD ND1856

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