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Malaysia PM Abdullah Warns Muslims Against Extremism

Malaysia's prime minister says Muslims around the world must guard against extremism and foster better understanding with the West. Azhar Sukri reports from Kuala Lumpur, where diplomats and academics from the world's biggest grouping of Muslim countries are gathered.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, in his role as head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, urged Muslims to erase the "ignorant and extremely damaging perception" that their countries breed terrorism and are undemocratic.

He also says Islamic countries must show that they can be tolerant and economically competitive.

Mr. Abdullah spoke three days before Iraqis vote in their first democratic elections, which Islamic militants have vowed to disrupt with violence.

Closer to home, Thailand is fighting its own low-level insurgency in the country's Muslim-dominated south, neighboring Malaysia. This week, Malaysian police arrested a man suspected of a raid on an arms depot in southern Thailand last year, triggering a wave of violence that has claimed about 600 lives.

A political risk analyst at Hill and Associates in Singapore, Bruce Gale, says Mr. Abdullah's strong credentials as a knowledgeable, but moderate, Muslim could help change opinion about Islamic countries. Part of his standing comes from his greater popularity at home compared with former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed.

"So his words perhaps would carry much more weight among Muslims who are very serious about their religion than perhaps Mahathir would have. But I think there is also a domestic angle to this too," he said. "Malaysia has been very concerned about the possibility of growth of extremism within its own communities."

Mr. Abdullah was speaking in Kuala Lumpur at a conference of eminent diplomats and academics from 16 Islamic countries. Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia urged Malaysia to organize a summit of leaders from the 57-member OIC. Mr. Abdullah says the summit will touch on political issues and Islamic ideology, among other matters.