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The Vatican and Malaysia have established official diplomatic ties, the Holy See announced on Monday after talks between Pope Benedict XVI and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
“In the cordial conversations, the positive developments in bilateral relations were discussed, and an agreement was reached to establish diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the Holy See,” the Vatican said in a statement.
Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country of around 28 million people, is the 179th country to have diplomatic relations with the Vatican.
Some nine percent of Malaysians are Christian, including 850,000 Catholics.
Last month Najib met with Malaysian church leaders in a bid to ease religious tensions stirred by a report that alleged Christians wanted to replace Islam as the official religion.
The row is one of a string of religious disputes in recent years that have raised fears among minorities that the country is being “Islamised” and that their rights are being eroded.
Religion and language are sensitive issues in multi-racial Malaysia.
A Malaysian government official told AFP on condition of anonymity that there are political concerns that the move to establish ties with the Vatican would be criticised by the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party.