Fri, 29 Dec 2000

Idul Fitri celebrations pass smoothly

JAKARTA (JP): Idul Fitri celebrations passed smoothly nationwide with authorities beefing up security during the two- day celebration amid fear of bombings in the wake of the bomb attacks on several churches on Christmas eve.

Tight security cordons were seen in every mosque hosting the Idul Fitri prayer, with authorities initiating a search and scanning of bags and possessions of the masses who joined the prayers.

Thousands of police and soldiers were deployed in Jakarta and other cities after President Abdurrahman Wahid said he feared provocateurs would instigate violence between Muslims and Christians in an effort to "destabilize the government".

The bombings of churches in nine cities on Christmas eve killed at least 16 people and injured scores of others.

The biggest mosque in eastern Indonesia, the Al Markaz Al Islami Grand Mosque, in Makassar capital of South Sulawesi received a bomb hoax.

South Sulawesi police chief Brig. Gen. Sofjan Jacob said that after a thorough security check the mosque and its compound was declared safe and thousands of Muslims could perform their prayers.

In Jakarta, the Idul Fitri prayer on Wednesday morning -- centered at the Istiqlal Grand Mosque -- was attended by President Abdurrahman and Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Later in the day, Abdurrahman visited the Christmas eve bomb victims at St Carolus hospital in Central Jakarta while Megawati made a similar visit later on Thursday.

Streets were empty in Jakarta on Wednesday and Thursday, while on Tuesday night hundreds of thousands of people ignored official calls to stay at home and instead poured into the streets, honking horns and burning firecrackers to celebrate the end of the Ramadhan fasting month.

The Takbir Akbar (mass prayer) on the eve of Idul Fitri was marked with a grand celebration and the striking of the bedug at the National Monument (Monas) square in Central Jakarta. Present were House of Representatives (DPR) Speaker Akbar Tandjung, People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Amien Rais, Coordinating Minister for Political, Social and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Minister of Religious Affairs Tolchah Hasan.

The first day of Idul Fitri was marked with an "open house" hosted by senior figures and government officials.

One of the obvious was at the residence of former president Soeharto on Jl. Cendana No. 6-8 in Menteng, Central Jakarta, where hundreds of guests, including former ministers and military/police chiefs attended the open house.

Sacked defense minister and former military commander Gen. (ret) Wiranto paid his respects, as did former vice president Try Sutrisno, also a former military chief, and former police chief Gen. (ret) Dibyo Widodo. Journalists, however, were not allowed to take pictures or carry recorders.

The former authoritarian ruler, wearing a white prayer shirt, looked fresh and smiled at the guests and sometimes responded to the well wishers, Antara reported.

All of Soeharto's children were present except for his youngest fugitive son, Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, on the run following a corruption conviction in early November.

"Bapak was also fasting this Ramadhan," Siti Hutami "Mamiek" Endang Adiningsih, Soeharto's youngest daughter, said after a morning prayer led by former state secretary Saadilah Moersjid.

Meanwhile, in strife-torn Maluku islands, no less than 178,000 refugees and victims of violence in North Maluku celebrated Idul Fitri on Wednesday, while some 25,000 others also joined a modest Christmas celebration in the town of Ternate earlier on Monday.

In Ambon, capital of Maluku, random shooting and explosions marred the festivities but no casualties were reported.

The hall of the Maluku Gubernatorial residence of Saleh Latuconsina in Mangga Dua area, however, became a meeting point for people from both Muslim and Christian camps which have been involved in the most bitter and bloody conflicts for almost two years. Separated friends and relatives were reunited in a modest gatherings of Christmas and Idul Fitri which was full of joy and tears.

In the troubled-torn province of Aceh, people opted to hold the Takbir on Tuesday night at their respective homes and mosques without street parades to avoid possible incidents.

The situation was also relatively calm during the Wednesday prayers, with security forces guarding the only two churches in Banda Aceh following the wave of bomb attacks.

About 4 percent of the Banda Aceh's 380,000 residents are Christians.

In Yogyakarta, thousands of people flocked to the Alun-alun Utara field facing the palace to attend the Garebeg Syawal ritual which coincides with the second day of Idul Fitri on Thursday.

In the western province of Irian Jaya people thronged the mosque in the capital of Jayapura.

In Denpasar, Bali, some 5,000 Muslims attended the Wednesday prayer led in Puputan square in Badung.

Peaceful and humble celebrations also took place in Bandung, West Java; Semarang in Central Java, Surabaya in East Java; Lampung; Padang in West Sumatra and Medan in North Sumatra. (edt/27/44/zen)