Mon, 31 Mar 2003

Hundreds of thousands call for end of war

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Jakarta's main thoroughfares turned into seas of humanity as hundreds of thousands of people from various religions and ethnic groups took to the streets in the country's largest ever rally to protest the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Supporters of Muslim-based parties and organizations, Catholic priests and nuns, students, noted intellectuals and labor union activists were among those who marched from the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle to the U.S. Embassy on Jl. Medan Merdeka Selatan. The march, which took place under a sweltering sun, caused a massive traffic jam that lasted for hours.

Marchers carried banners condemning the U.S and its allies, who went for war without the consent of the United Nations. Other banners criticized the world body for failing to prevent the war and urged the world community to stop the aggression. Amid hundreds of banners written in Arabic, one group of protesters displayed a banner quoting antiwar remarks from Pope John Paul II.

Calling the U.S.-led war an attack on humanity, some demonstrators demanded an international human rights tribunal for the leaders of the countries involved in the attack.

To mark the start of the protest, hundreds of doves were released into the sky to symbolize peace and church bells were rung.

This may have been the first time members of the National Mandate Party (PAN), the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), Muhammadiyah, the country's second largest Muslim organization, the Muslim Propagation Council and the Indonesian Ulemas Council joined hands with members of other religions for a common cause.

The Indonesian government has strongly deplored the attack on Iraq and has attempted prod the UN to take action to stop the aggression.

Police put the number of protesters at 250,000, while organizers claimed over one million people took part in the rally.

Nearly 1,500 police officers were deployed to maintain order during the protest, with a special focus on guarding the U.S. Embassy. No violence was reported during the protest, which ended at noon.

Among the demonstrators were People's Consultative Assembly Speaker and PAN chairman Amien Rais, noted Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid, the former chairman of the Indonesian Committee for World Muslim Solidarity, Achmad Soemargono, and PKS chairman Hidayat Nurwahid, who was also the rally coordinator.

"All of the people of Indonesia, without exception, want Bush to withdraw his forces from Iraq," Amien shouted to the crowd as they passed in front of the UN building on Jl. Thamrin.

Nurcholish said "world peace is in danger and being destroyed by a man called Bush". Nurcholish was referring to U.S. President George W. Bush.

Nurcholish was among the Indonesian interfaith leaders who met with the European Parliament in Brussels and the Pope in the Vatican prior to the war to convey the country's antiwar message.

Protesters again called for a nationwide boycott of U.S. products and a shift to European goods. The government, scholars and religious leaders have warned that a boycott of U.S. products would only hurt Indonesia.

In Surabaya, hundreds of civilian guards from the country's largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), held a mass prayer in front of the U.S. Consulate General on Jl. Dr. Soetomo to protest the war. The protesters also questioned the relevance of the UN given its reluctance to take action against the U.S. and its allies.

During the rally, an effigy of U.S. President George W. Bush was burned.

On the resort island of Bali, Hindus sent a message of peace, calling for a cease-fire for the Hindu Day of Silence on Wednesday. The holiday marks the Hindu New Year.

"The Hindu Day of Silence is sacred and can provide the momentum to bring peace back to the world," Agus Indra Udayana, chairman of the youth organization Aashram Gandhi Puri, told Antara on Sunday.

During the Day of Silence, Hindus avoid all activities and light to signify the effort to purify themselves.

Indonesia has seen a wave of antiwar protests since the U.S. and its allies attacked Iraq on March 20. One exception, however, is the Central Sulawesi capital of Palu, which has remained rally-free.

Muhammad Lationo, secretary-general of the largest Muslim organization in east Indonesia, Alkhairaat, said this did not mean that the people of Palu supported the war in Iraq.

"Instead of staging a rally it would be more effective for Muslims here to say a prayer to God or to provide humanitarian aid for the Iraqi people," he said as quoted by Antara.