Mon, 10 Feb 2003

Thousands protest, diplomatic efforts heightened to avert war

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja The Jakarta Post Jakarta

Domestic opposition against a possible U.S.-led war on Iraq reached new heights on Sunday when thousands of people rallied in the capital in one of the biggest anti-war demonstrations in the country.

Efforts to thwart the planned war also came from the country's leaders, with a number of envoys sent to various countries to seek their support against war.

Two separate groups marched onto the streets on Sunday, one organized by the Islamic-oriented Justice Party (PK) with more than 10,000 protesters, and the other led by the National Awakening Party (PKB) with hundreds of people taking part.

Many of the protesters were women wearing traditional Muslim head scarves and carrying babies. They marched through downtown Jakarta, waving banners that read, "Stop War, Save Iraq", "No more blood", and "No Way for State Terrorism".

"War is a crime against humanity and the international community should not let it happen," Justice Party's president Hidayat Nurwahid told thousands of protesters in front of the U.S. Embassy on Jl. Merdeka Selatan, Central Jakarta.

Police with riot shields were on hand near the U.S. Embassy, but the crowd was peaceful. The protesters dispersed shortly after midday.

On the same issue, hundreds of PKB supporters protested at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle in Central Jakarta.

The protest caused only a slight hitch in the light Sunday traffic in the capital.

"There are no reasons that can justify a war," PKB Jakarta chief Marzuki Usman, a former minister, told the protesters.

PKB claims to be an inclusive political party, but its base comprise traditional Muslims from Nahdlatul Ulama, the country's largest Muslim organization.

Many religious leaders, politicians and analysts have warned that a U.S. attack on Iraq could cause a violent backlash in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, especially if Washington acts without a formal U.N. sanction.

The United States, along with Britain, has made repeated efforts to win Indonesia's backing for a strike on Iraq.

U.S. Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce and British Ambassador Richard Gozney visited Indonesian legislators on Friday to garner support, but many voiced their opposition.

The government is unsympathetic towards the U.S. policy on Iraq, as are most legislators and Indonesians.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri has made it clear to the U.S. government that the United States would not get Indonesia's support in a war with Iraq.

The Indonesian government, nevertheless, promised that it would ensure the safety of all foreigners and their interests in the country should there be a backlash from Indonesians in response to Washington's possible war.

Indonesia saw daily protests across the country in 2001 when the United States attacked Afghanistan, accused of harboring Osama bin Laden, main suspect behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.

Some radical groups even went to Afghanistan to help Afghans in their fight against the U.S. attack, while others threatened to expel Americans and Europeans from Indonesia.

The chairman of the country's second largest Muslim organization Muhammadiyah, Ahmad Syafii Maarif, called on all Indonesians, especially Muslims, not to resort to violent acts in expressing their opposition against the possible war.

"We should remain calm and persistent in trying to prevent war. There is no need to harass foreigners here in Indonesia," Syafii was quoted by Antara as saying on Sunday in Yogyakarta.

He also warned that Indonesian Muslims should not go to Iraq, even if a war started, saying that it would only endanger the lives of the Indonesian people.

"What we need to do, is to increase our diplomatic efforts to stop the war," he said.

Syafii, Cardinal Julius Darmoatmodjo and noted Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid are slated to travel to the Vatican to meet Pope John Paul II and ask him to help stop the war.

Meanwhile, Nahdlatul Ulama chairman Hasyim Muzadi is tasked with traveling to Australia to gather support from the anti-war movement there.

At the same time, the Indonesian government's envoy Ali Alatas, previously the foreign affairs minister, is slated to travel to the Middle East, also to raise diplomatic efforts and prevent a war.

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