KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia_New Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, in his first act after talking office Friday, freed 13 people being held under a law that allows indefinite detention and lifted a ban on two opposition newspapers.
“These decisions are timely as we move to enhance the confidence of our citizens in those entrusted with maintaining peace, law and order,” Najib said in a surprise announcement on national television, hours after he took office.
He did not identify the 13 people being held under the Internal Security Act, but some are political dissidents and ethnic Indian activists who have been held for more than a year for organizing an anti-government demonstration.
“I pledge that I will work tirelessly to serve all of you,” said Najib in a short address.
“In this spirit, I would like to announce that the government has decided with immediate effect, to remove the temporary ban on two news publications (and) release 13 detainees from ISA detention,” he said.
Najib also promised to “conduct a comprehensive review” of the Internal Security Act, which has been severely criticized by the opposition and human rights groups as a government tool to suppress political opposition.
He said additional details will be announced soon by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The detention of the Indian activists greatly angered the minority ethnic Indian and Chinese communities in the Muslim Malay-majority country. The anger was one of the reasons for the ruling National Front coalition’s dismal results in March 2008 elections.
The National Front suffered its worst results in the 51 years it has been in power. It failed to get a two-thirds majority for the first time in 40 years, conceding 82 seats to the opposition in the 222-member Parliament. It also lost an unprecedented five states.
Najib’s predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, was partly blamed for the losses and was forced out of office by their United Malays National Organization party, which leads the Front. Abdullah resigned Thursday as part of a planned power transition spread over one year.
The 55-year-old, British-educated Najib, was sworn into office earlier Friday, becoming the country’s sixth prime minister.
Najib, who is expected to announce a new Cabinet lineup next week, faces a mammoth task in healing the country’s politics, society and an economy heading for recession.
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Source : The Associated Press