Jakarta protesters call for holy war

Muslim protesters yesterday called for a holy war against Christians in the strife-torn Maluku province, in what could be an attempt by disaffected Indonesian military elements to undermine the government.

Dressed in white Muslim robes and military boots, about 5,000 demonstrators gathered at the central Jakarta stadium to register their demands, with some later marching to the state palace grounds, only to be thrown out by President Abdurrahman Wahid after a five-minute meeting.

The rally yesterday morning was organised by the Communication Forum for Muslims, a coalition of radical Islamic groups. One of its leaders, Mr Arip Syafuddin, vowed to launch a jihad, or holy war, this month unless the government ended the killings against Muslims on the islands.

Against a backdrop of chants of “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) from the vociferous crowd, many of whom were armed with swords and knives, he declared that he hoped to raise an army of 10,000 for the task this month.

He also warned that they would be prepared to fight on Java island if Jakarta blocked them from going to Maluku.

“Those who have been prepared are youth groups,” he told reporters later. “They will be deployed all over the Maluku and the surrounding islands.”

The latest bout of protests come as violence tapers off on the Maluku islands. Thousands were killed in months of fighting last year between Muslims and Christians, but now, only sporadic clashes occur.

The government ordered a naval blockade a few months ago to prevent weapons and would-be fighters from reaching the islands after several Muslim groups from other parts of Indonesia threatened to head for the Maluku to wage a holy war.

At the rally yesterday, there did not appear to be any key political figures present.

Analysts said the aim of such a gathering would be for some groups, including disaffected military elements, to whip up sentiments over the troublespot in an effort to subvert Mr Abdurrahman’s administration.

Sources say one high-ranking general, who was sidelined in the recent military shake-up along with other loyalists of former strongman General Wiranto, is linked to radical Islamic groups and is bent on stirring up problems for the government.

The President yesterday met a representative of some 2,000 protesters who had marched to the state palace after the rally.

State Secretary Bondan Gunawan told The Straits Times that during the meeting, Mr Jafar Umar Thalib urged Mr Abdurrahman to stop “defending the interests of Christians” and also to maintain a decree banning communism.

Palace sources said the President, who was waiting to see his doctors for a medical check-up, became “irritable and angry” when Mr Jafar went on to press for his removal from office.

The President was quoted as saying: “I was elected by the MPR and I shall be accountable only to the MPR.”

Thrown out of the palace, Mr Jafar told reporters that the group would press on with its plans for a jihad and to oust Mr Abdurrahman from power.

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