Tue, 10 Jun 2003

Major rally set to hit Jakarta

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Thousands of demonstrators are expected to hold rallies at the House of Representatives on Tuesday in support of or against the controversial education bill, raising fears of clashes between rival protesters and severe traffic congestion across Jakarta.

Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI) secretary Din Syamsuddin claimed that one million Muslims would occupy the House compound on Tuesday if the bill was postponed.

"We are expecting a crowd that reaches one million supporters for the bill's endorsement," Din, also vice chairman of Muhammadiyah, told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Din said the crowd would consist of members of dozens of groups, including Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah -- the country's two largest Muslim organizations -- the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), MUI, Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), Mosque Youth and others.

However, NU leader Hasyim Muzadi opposes the bill and has demanded changes to its contentious articles.

Din said the protesters were expected to begin gathering at 7 a.m. in the East Parking Lot of the Bung Karno Sports Stadium, Central Jakarta, from where they would march to the nearby House compound on Jl. Gatot Subroto.

The protest is to put pressure on the House to pass the bill when it convenes for a plenary session on Tuesday.

Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Prasetyo said police were ready to ensure security during Tuesday's protest.

"The number of police officers deployed to secure the rally will depend on the situation in the field," he said, declining to specify numbers.

He said police had yet to receive letters from those organizations detailing their demonstration plans.

"If the demonstrators fail to report their plans in advance, we have the authority to disperse them," Prasetyo said.

Numerous groups have protested for and against the bill. Those in support are mostly Muslim groups, while those opposing it are mostly Catholic and Protestant organizations.

Protests by rival groups continued in Jakarta and other cities in several parts of the country on Monday.

The biggest rally was in the Central Java capital of Semarang, involving thousands of demonstrators. Similar demonstrations were also held in Medan in North Sumatra, Makassar in South Sulawesi and Surabaya in East Java.

The point of contention is the articles requiring all schools, including private religious-based schools, to provide religious instruction for students from different faiths.

Many private Christian schools have large numbers of Muslim students and there is an apparent fear that those students may be converted away from Islam.

However, the Christian groups see the stipulation as state intervention in private educational institutions.