Army deployed in Malaysia ahead of Obama's arrival for summit

By: 
Reuters

UALA LUMPUR: Malaysia deployed soldiers in its capital city on Friday, taking extra security precautions amid unconfirmed reports of an "imminent terrorist threat" ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's arrival for a regional summit.

"There have been reports of imminent terrorist threats in Malaysia," Malaysia's police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said in a statement on Thursday night. "At this point, I would like to underline that they have yet to be confirmed."

Malaysia tightened security following terrorist attacks in France, Egypt and Lebanon, Khalid said.

Obama is joining leaders of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) for a weekend summit. Leaders from seven other countries with close partnerships with the grouping - Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia and South Korea - will also attend the meetings starting on Saturday.

At least 2,000 army personnel were being stationed at strategic points in Kuala Lumpur and another 2,500 were on standby, Armed Forces chief Zulkifeli Mohd Zin said.

Obama and most of the other leaders coming to Kuala Lumpur attended the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila. Obama has tried to turn the heat on China over its territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea and assure allies that a U.S. "pivot" to Asia remains a core policy.

NINE-DASH LINE

Beijing's claim to almost the entire South China Sea is shown on Chinese maps with a nine-dash line that stretches deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia. This clashes with claims by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

In a legal setback for Beijing, an arbitration court in the Netherlands ruled in October it has jurisdiction to hear some territorial claims the Philippines has filed against China over disputed areas in the South China Sea.

While ASEAN has yet to take a collective stand about China's increasingly assertive posture in the South China Sea, its secretary general said it was no surprise member countries are looking for peaceful ways to challenge it.

"They have the right to take any path or any process, as long as its a peaceful one conducive to a solution of the dispute," ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh said in an interview.

In talks with Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Thursday, Obama demanded China halt land reclamation work that is turning seven reefs in the Spratly archipelago into artificial islands. China is building airfields and other facilities on some of those islands.

Earlier this month, U.S. B-52 bombers flew near the islands, signalling Washington's determination to challenge Beijing over the disputed sea.

China has said it does not want the South China Sea issue to be the focus of the meetings in Kuala Lumpur and a draft of the Chairman's statement to be issued at the end makes no mention of the recent tensions.

The statement merely calls for peaceful resolution of the South China Sea issue and highlights progress in negotiations between ASEAN and China. The Philippines, however, wants the statement to make note of its case against China at the Hague.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar Laos, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

MALAYSIA'S OPPOSITION

Obama will meet Prime Minister Najib Razak on Friday and will "very directly" raise concerns about the status of Malaysia's political opposition, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on Thursday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila.

Critics have accused Najib of escalating a crackdown on dissent and free expression after losing the popular vote in the 2013 general election. The prime minister has come under pressure himself after it was revealed in July that nearly $700 million in unexplained deposits were placed into his personal bank accounts. He has denied any wrongdoing but has yet to detail the source and purpose of the money he received.

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