KUALA LUMPUR-- Hundreds of thousands of people with hooks pierced through the skin of their backs thronged temples Saturday to celebrate a Hindu festival amid tensions surrounding attacks on houses of worship in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Eleven churches, three mosques, two Muslim prayer rooms and a Sikh temple have been attacked since early this month following a court ruling that allowed non-Muslims to use the word "Allah" to refer to God.

The verdict upset some Muslims and the government, which argues "Allah" is exclusive to Islam and its use by others could confuse Muslims into converting.

Though damage in most of the attacks was minor, the incidents raised fears of religious tensions in this multiethnic nation, where about a third of its 28 million people are Buddhist, Hindu or Christian.

Ethnic Indians account for 8 percent.

Addressing Hindu devotees at a temple complex outside Kuala Lumpur late Friday, Prime Minister Najib Razak called for mutual respect between all religions.

"I want to stress here that respecting each other's religion is not only a key virtue that we must defend in this country, it is also one of the principles in Islam," he was quoted by the national news agency Bernama as saying. (AP)