Najib Urges Muslim Moderation as Embassies Close: Southeast Asia
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak urged Muslims to avoid violence as planned protests over videos and cartoons offensive to Muslims prompt the U.S. to close its embassies in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.
The U.S. will shut its embassy in Indonesia’s capital today because of “potential significant demonstrations that might be held,” according to a statement posted on its website. Demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur prompted the U.S. to close its embassy at noon today.
“I urge Muslims to remain peaceful and not resort to violence as a means of showing dissatisfaction,” Najib said in a statement late yesterday. “Now, more than ever, each of us has a responsibility to work together for greater respect, tolerance and understanding so we may live in harmony.”
Protests in Jakarta turned violent this week as unrest over a film denigrating Islam spread through the Arab world and led to an attack that killed a U.S. ambassador in Libya. Indonesia and Malaysia must be careful to allow the public to vent its anger while maintaining good relations with the U.S., according to Joseph Chinyong Liow, associate dean of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
Both countries “see that they need to allow for a pressure valve for these sentiments to find expression,” Liow said. “At the end of the day, as far as strategic calculations are concerned, both Indonesians and Malaysian governments know that it’s not in their interest to strain their relationship with the U.S.”
Google Inc. (GOOG) blocked users in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore from viewing clips of the “Innocence of Muslims” on Youtube, its video-sharing website, Channel News Asia reported on its website. Taj Meadows, a Google spokesman, didn’t respond to queries about whether the videos were blocked in the countries.
“Where we have launched YouTube locally and we are notified that a video is illegal in that country, we will restrict access to it after a thorough review,” he said in a statement yesterday.
Singapore’s government cautioned that any act inciting racial or religious violence is against the law.
“The continued circulation of this film is likely to cause disharmony or feelings of ill-will between different groups in Singapore,” the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement yesterday. “We would like to urge members of the public to refrain from re-posting the video or adding comments that may further inflame the situation.”
France will close diplomatic sites in 20 Muslim countries today on concern that a French satirical magazine’s publication of cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad may provoke a violent backlash. Embassies, consulates, cultural centers and French schools will close today, the French foreign ministry said in an e-mailed statement this week.
The U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya, the American Presence Post in Medan, the U.S. Consular Agency in Bali and the U.S. Mission to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will also be closed, according to the embassy’s statement yesterday. About 400 protesters threw rocks at police outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta three days ago, injuring 11 officers as they fought back firing tear gas.
The Islamic Defenders Front, which has led raids on nightclubs and forced Lady Gaga to cancel a concert in June, helped organize the protests earlier this week. A group called the Islamic Students Organization will rally today.
“We are still waiting for information from intelligence as to who will rally, which organization and what they normally do,” Rikwanto, a spokesman for Jakarta’s police, said by phone. Police expected 100 people to gather outside the embassy in Jakarta and a further 200 in Depok, about 23 kilometers (14 miles) from the capital, he said.
In Malaysia, diplomats warned U.S. citizens to avoid two separate protests near the embassy, including “a large demonstration by members of one or more political parties.” A separate gathering will occur about 3 kilometers from the embassy, according to a message sent to U.S. citizens.
The protests will be carried out by members of the two biggest Muslim parties, including Najib’s United Malays National Organization, state-run Bernama reported. While the prime minister said the film and caricatures are “unnecessarily inflammatory,” he touted Malaysia’s efforts to bring together people of all faiths in a coalition of moderates.
While Indonesia has the world’s largest population of Muslims, it maintains a secular government and recognizes other religions. Still, Bali and Jakarta have suffered several major terrorist attacks in the past decade, with bombings at hotels and night clubs killing more than 220 people.
“Obviously if you have a diplomat killed you have to be cautious,” said James Castle, a former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia, referring to Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his colleagues killed in Libya this month.
“There have been some groups demonstrating but so far they have been relatively peaceful,” said Castle, who has lived in Indonesia since 1977 and survived terrorist bombings at Jakarta’s JW Marriott hotel in 2003 and 2009. “I don’t see any additional risk.”
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