Thursday, December 25, 2003

Malaysian PM sends Christmas Cards

Last Updated: Thursday, 25 December, 2003, 18:00 GMT

By Jonathan Kent
BBC correspondent in Kuala Lumpur

The Malaysian Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi, has become the first leader of his Muslim majority country to send an official Christmas card.

Some 1,500 leading members of Malaysia's large Christian community have received season's greetings from Mr Abdullah.

The prime minister's card shows Malaysians of different races and religions holding hands and dancing.

The card itself does not explicitly mention the Christmas holidays.

But it does extend festive wishes for peace, happiness, love and national unity to Christian preachers and their congregations around the country.

'Discrimination' claim

Abdullah Badawi, who became prime minister almost two months ago, is a respected Muslim scholar and has long made a point of promoting good relations among the country's various religious groups.

Malaysia's PM Abdullah Badawi
Malaysia is predominantly Muslim, but remains under secular rule
None of his four predecessors, who were all also Muslims, sent out official Christmas cards.

Last week Mr Abdullah reacted angrily to a US Government report which listed Malaysia among countries which discriminate on grounds of faith.

Ministers are considering lodging an official protest with Washington.

Although Malaysians enjoy freedom of worship, some opposition leaders say that the state discriminates economically in favour of Muslims and that non-Muslims are excluded from the highest political offices.