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Headquarters of Malaysian opposition hit by suspected act of arson: party chairman

KUALA LUMPUR -- The state headquarters of a Malaysian opposition party suffered what police suspect was an arson attack on Thursday, as the country braces for expected fresh elections.

The headquarters of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) in Penang state was slightly damaged when someone apparently set fire to newspapers meant for party members that were stacked outside the office, state party chairman Chow Kon Yeow told AFP.

The DAP, whose core constituents are ethnic Chinese non-Muslims, is part of a three-party coalition that rules the state but on a federal level forms the opposition in the Muslim-majority country.

Gan Kong Meng, chief of police in Penang's capital Georgetown, where the incident took place, told AFP that police were investigating the case as suspected arson while still trying to establish a motive.

Chow said he believed the incident could have been an attack linked to a state Islamic council's recent ban on mosques broadcasting Koran recitals through loudspeakers before dawn. The ban has angered some Muslims.

Last weekend, the same headquarters and a DAP state lawmaker's office were splashed with red paint in apparent vandalism attacks.

Chow said a state government building suffered a similar vandal attack early Thursday and that other incidents in recent months included a dead chicken being hung outside the house of a state lawmaker.

“In view of recent incidents, I view this fire as an intentional and coordinated act by persons with political motives,” Chow said in a statement.

“The longer the police delay action, the more it will look like hate crimes against the DAP are permitted.”

Malaysia's political environment has become increasingly polarized as the opposition has gained strength in recent years, most notably achieving historic gains against the long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in 2008 polls.

Fresh national elections are widely expected to be called soon, perhaps by early next year.

Non-Muslims, meanwhile, have expressed fears of a rising tide of Islamization in the country.

Ethnic Chinese are Malaysia's largest minority, accounting for about 25 percent of the country's 28 million people. Muslim ethnic Malays make up 60 percent.

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