Sat, 29 Mar 2003

Antiwar rallies tempered with pleas for peac

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A rally calling for peace by hundreds of students in Jakarta on Friday was in marked contrast to a number of other rowdier rallies around the country against the United States-led attack on Iraq.

More than 1,000 high school and university students staged a solemn protest in front of the Al Azhar Mosque on Jl. Pattimura, South Jakarta. The demonstration was highlighted by the release of dozens of white balloons with banners reading "Peace", along with a pair of white doves as a symbol of peace.

The demonstrators, who came from the Indonesian Al Azhar Students for Peace (Gempar) group, also performed a street play depicting the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which has resulted in much suffering and grief.

The students wore black armbands to express their deep sympathy for the Iraqi people during the rally, which ended with a fund raising effort for the victims of the war in Iraq.

In other towns, the rallies were marked by displays of resentment against the U.S. and its allies, and calls for a boycott of these countries' products. As usual, franchised American fast-food restaurants McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken were targeted by the protesters.

In the Central Java capital of Semarang, nearly 200 students took to the streets in front of a local McDonald's outlet in the Ciputra Mall in Simpang Lima to call for a boycott of U.S. products.

Some employees of the restaurant distributed fliers explaining that the American franchise restaurant employed Indonesians and uses domestic products as the raw materials for its products. But the protesters were unswayed by the fast-food chain's assertion that its local outlets have benefited Indonesians, and immediately threw the fliers away.

"The products sold by places like McDonald's all benefit U.S. interests," the protesters shouted.

They argued that every cent of profit realized by the sale of these products would be used to finance the U.S.-led attack on Iraq.

In Serang square in Banten, over 1,000 protesters from a number of Islamic political parties and mass organizations urged the public to stop consuming U.S. beverages and foodstuffs.

"Purchasing U.S. products means providing support for the U.S. in its attack on the Iraqi people," a protester shouted.

Similar calls to boycott U.S. products were also heard in several other cities, including Bandar Lampung, Yogyakarta and Jakarta.

Muhammad Afifudin, who led a large rally by students from the Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic University in front of the McDonald's outlet at the Sarinah building in Central Jakarta, said the main objective of the rally was to stop the war.

"The call for a boycott is only one of the strategic efforts we will be undertaking." he told The Jakarta Post.

Afifudin failed to comment, however, on the possibility that such a boycott could backfire on Indonesian businesses that were mostly owned by Indonesian people and employed mainly Indonesians.

Despite the rowdy rallies across the country, the U.S. government announced on Friday it would reopen its Surabaya Consulate General for services to the public on Monday.

All services will be by prior appointment, and the public should phone the consulate to request an appointment before arriving at the consulate building, the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the immigration office said there had been no exodus of expatriates from the country so far, despite the wave of protests against the U.S.-led attack on Iraq.

Immigration spokesman Ade Endang Dahlan said on Friday that after a week of military action in Iraq, the number of overseas citizens arriving in and departing from the country was normal.

Ade was referring to the results of a survey on the inflow and outflow of non-nationals through Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Jakarta and Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar, Bali.

"According to the figures we have obtained from the two airports, there has been no significant rise in the number of foreigners leaving or coming into Indonesia," he said.

Quoting the figures, he disclosed that between March 19 and March 26, some 8,095 foreign citizens entered and 8,157 exited through Ngurah Rai Airport.

A statement by the Oil and Gas Executive Board (BP Migas) also revealed that there had been no exodus of U.S. expatriates from Riau. It said that a number of non-nationals had left Indonesia for their "spring break" and would return to Riau early in April.