Malaysian leader says interfaith conference postponed, not canceled

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Facing criticism from an opposition leader and a clergyman, Malaysia's prime minister insisted that a Muslim-Christian conference scheduled to be held in Malaysia in early May has been postponed, not canceled.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said he had asked for it to be delayed so he can attend. The Building Bridges seminar has been held annually for international Christian and Muslim scholars since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

"We will find another suitable date," Abdullah told the national news agency Bernama.

Malaysia is currently chair of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the world's largest Islamic grouping.

Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang had warned that canceling the conference would be a blow to the multiethnic country's reputation for religious tolerance.

The Rev. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, expressed dismay over the move and appealed to the government to review its decision.

Nearly 60 percent of Malaysia's 26 million people are Muslim, but there are large Buddhist, Christian and Hindu minorities whose right of worship is generally respected by the government.

However, interfaith relations have recently come under strain due to several religious disputes and an erosion of minority rights.