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Malaysia Catholic paper loses permit amid 'Allah' row

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 12 (AFP) - Malaysia's weekly Catholic newspaper has lost its publishing permit for next year amid a long-running dispute over its use of the word "Allah", the editor said Thursday.

The loss of The Herald's permit comes as it prepares for a High Court hearing on December 14 in a legal battle between the Catholic Church and the authorities over the use of the world "Allah" in the paper's Malay-language section.

The government has argued that the word "Allah" should be used only by Muslims, who dominate the population of Malaysia.

"It is very confusing. One letter in August said we have the licence to print (in 2010) and the next thing is we receive a letter in September saying the permit is not approved. Something is amiss," The Herald's editor, Father Lawrence Andrew, told AFP.

Father Lawrence said the home ministry cancelled the new permit without any reason.

The Roman Catholic Church has waged a two-year legal battle with Malaysian authorities over the use of the word "Allah".

The priest said he had met with home ministry officials last month to resolve the issue but declined to elaborate.

Home ministry officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Herald newspaper, circulated among the country's 850,000 Catholics, nearly lost its publishing licence last year for using the disputed word.

Asked if The Herald would be available in January 2010, he said: "I hope it will be there."

The newspaper is printed in four languages and has a circulation of 14,000 copies a week.

The row is among a string of religious disputes that have erupted in recent years, straining relations between Muslim Malays and minority ethnic Chinese and Indians who fear the country is being "Islamised".

Religion and language are sensitive issues in multiracial Malaysia, which experienced deadly race riots in 1969.

About 60 percent of the nation's 27 million people are ethnic Malay Muslims, who dominate the government.

The rest of the population includes indigenous tribes as well as ethnic Chinese and Indians -- practising Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism, among others.

More than half of Malaysia's Catholics are from indigenous groups, most of whom live on the Borneo island states and who mainly speak Malay.

MySinchew 2009.11.12



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