Sat, 08 Mar 2003

Huge antiwar rallies to come

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Jakarta and Surabaya will see a wave of mass rallies in a couple of days to show Indonesia's strong opposition to a possible attack on Iraq.

Influential Muslim preacher A.A. Gymnastiar, popularly known as Aa Gym, will lead thousands of Muslims to the streets to voice their opposition to a U.S.-led military strike on Iraq.

"The event is set to show that thousands of Muslims will join in a mass rally to protest any military solution to the Iraq crisis, and that the rally will go on peacefully," Aa Gym told The Jakarta Post by telephone on Friday.

He further said that around 100,000 Muslims would join the mass rally which would start at Istiqlal Grand Mosque and travel down along Jl. Thamrin to Monas.

All rally participants would perform a mass prayer for world peace at the grand mosque before marching to Monas, he added.

"We will read out a letter calling for the U.S. to avert a war against Iraq, and then I will go alone to deliver the letter to the U.S. Embassy," said the popular cleric.

He claimed that U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Ralph L. Boyce had confirmed his readiness to accept the letter personally at the embassy.

"The Ambassador called us to say that he was ready to receive the letter," said Aa Gym.

Separately, the largest Muslim organization Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) said earlier that around one million Muslims would perform a mass prayer for world peace in Surabaya, East Java, on Monday.

NU Chairman Hasyim Muzadi said that during the mass prayer, participants would also pray for national repentance so that the nation could solve all problems plaguing the country.

The government also renewed Indonesia's stance on the Iraq crisis, saying it was unnecessary for the UN Security Council to issue a second resolution to end the crisis, because Iraq was quite cooperative with UN inspectors in dismantling its weapons of mass destruction.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said on Friday that the UN weapons inspection team should be given more time and that there was still a chance to solve the crisis peacefully.

"We are against the second resolution on Iraq proposed by the U.S., as the draft implies that Iraq has failed to cooperate with the inspection team.

"Indonesia's position remains firm, that we would like to see more time given to the inspection team to finish their tasks," he remarked after a meeting with President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

The UN Security Council is expected to hold a plenary meeting late on Friday to discuss the proposed draft of a second resolution, which will allow the use of force to disarm Iraq.

France, China and Russia, three of the five permanent members of the council that had veto rights, have said that they will exercise their rights to block U.S. efforts to attack Iraq.

Washington, however, said that they were ready to use force in disarming Iraq, even without the approval of the UN Security Council.

"Indonesia insisted that Washington should not make any unilateral actions against Iraq, should the second resolution not come to pass," Hassan remarked.

The president made an official statement rejecting a war, and called on the U.S. to exercise self-restraint in solving the crisis in the Middle East.

The government has also made preparations to evacuate its citizens from Middle East countries should war break out in the near future.

Adm. (ret) Widodo A.S., chairman of the Joint Team Handling Impacts of the Iraq Crisis, said that his team was ready to face the worst possible scenario in Iraq, including the evacuation of around 35,000 Indonesians employed in eight countries in that region.

"The preparation are ready, and the eight countries bordering with Iraq have assured the safety of Indonesian workers in a state of emergency," Widodo said after briefing the president on his recent visit to the Middle East.