Sun, 30 Mar 2003

1 million may take to Jakarta streets

Damar Harsanto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Close to one million people from all walks of life are expected to turn out on Sunday morning for a protest on the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Rally coordinator Hidayat Nurwahid told The Jakarta Post on Saturday that various groups, including students, professionals, religious groups, political parties and non-governmental organizations, would participate in the peaceful protest, which is expected to be the biggest the city has seen so far.

"At least 200,000 people have confirmed that they would be turning out for the rally. We are optimistic that our target of assembling one million people on Jakarta's streets will materialize," said Hidayat, who is also the coordinator of the Indonesian Committee in Solidarity with Iraqi People (Kisra).

Hidayat said the protesters would gather at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle and proceed to the British Embassy on Jl. Imam Bonjol, Central Jakarta at 8 a.m. From there, the protesters will head to the United Nations representative office on Jl. M.H. Thamrin, and then the U.S. Embassy on Jl. Medan Merdeka Selatan.

Police will deploy 10 companies, or 1,500 police officers, to ensure tight security at the rally.

"We will deploy 10 companies of officers to safeguard the rally specifically," Central Jakarta Police deputy chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Ricky F. Wakkano said on Saturday.

Hidayat said demonstrators at the rally would demand an immediate end to the invasion and a peaceful solution for the standoff between the United States and Iraq over president Saddam Hussein's refusal to destroy the weapons of mass destruction he has allegedly developed and hidden in the country.

"Our main demand is to stop the war. We also call on the United Nations to immediately take concrete action to stop the war in Iraq," said Hidayat.

Some leading figures are reportedly joining the antiwar rally, including Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid, poet Taufik Ismail, Mgr. Julius Cardinal Darmaatmadja of the Bishops Council of Indonesia (KWI) and former coordinating minister for the economy Rizal Ramli.

Since the U.S. and its staunch allies Britain and Australia invaded Iraq over a week ago, Indonesians across the country have staged antiwar protests almost daily.

The Association of Catholic Students (PMKRI) confirmed on Saturday that its members would be participating in the peaceful rally.

"We have contacted our members in the Greater Jakarta area, including Bogor, to participate in the peaceful rally," PMKRI secretary-general Melky Lakalena told the Post.

However, Melky could not give an exact estimate of how many of their members would be turning out for the event.

Melky said that the war in Iraq was not a religious issue but a humanitarian concern.

"The war (in Iraq) is against humanity. Based on that concern, we have decided to join the rally," Melky said.

However, Sultanol Huda of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) said that his organization, which has more than 40 million members nationwide, would not take part in the rally.

"We cannot participate in this rally because of logistical problems. We couldn't immediately call our members. Perhaps next time we will join a similar rally," Sultanol said.

Separately, Vice President Hamzah Haz said on Saturday that the rally should be peaceful and "not turn into anarchy".

"Please express your sympathy in peaceful ways, not with violence," said Hamzah.

Commenting on the wave of antiwar rallies across the country since the Iraq war broke out, Hamzah said the rallies had been tolerable so far.