KUALA LUMPUR, March 29 (Reuters) - Buddhists in Malaysia are opposing an application by the controversial Falun Gong spiritual movement to register in the country on the grounds that it could mislead Buddhists, a Buddhist spokesman said on Thursday.
Falun Gong, banned by China in 1999 as an evil cult that brainwashes members, has spread throughout southeast Asia.
It is registered in neighbouring Singapore, where 15 members were arrested for an illegal vigil on New Year's Eve. They were due to be sentenced on Thursday.
Last year a branch of the group applied to register in Malaysia. The government has yet to respond, a Falun Gong spokesman told Reuters on Thursday. He declined to comment further.
But the country's largest Buddhist group said Falun Gong could mislead believers because it used Buddhist terminology.
Lim Tien Phong, secretary of the Malaysian Buddhist Association, said the term 'falun' meant 'dharma', or ultimate truth, which was a cornerstone of the Buddha's teachings.
"Why do they make use of the Buddhist name? They take the chance to mislead Buddhists," Lim told Reuters in a telephone interview from northern Penang state.
Government officials could not be reached for comment.
Falun Gong combines meditation and exercise with a doctrine loosely rooted in Buddhist and Taoist teachings.
About 30 percent of Malaysians are Buddhist, most of them ethnic Chinese. Muslim Malays make up 55 percent and Hindus, most of them ethnic Indians, make up about 10 percent.
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