Call for calm after Indonesian church attacks

Houses of worship were tightly guarded yesterday after a deadly Christmas Eve church-bombing campaign, and Indonesian officials asked Muslims to mark the end of the month-long Ramadan fast without the usual street celebrations.

Some 17,000 extra security personnel were on the streets of Jakarta, the capital, and throughout the world's largest Islamic country, two days after explosions at churches in nine cities and towns killed 15 people and injured about 100 others.

President Abdurrahman Wahid pledged harsh action against the perpetrators. "We should not be afraid of terrorists who want to create a split in the country's unity," he said. Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri met with Christian and Muslim leaders, urging them to unite to stop efforts to create conflict between their followers.

Dozens of people have been detained for questioning, police said. No group has claimed responsibility for the blasts.

Eid al-Fitr is usually a boisterous affair in Indonesia, where 90 percent of the nation's 210 million people are Muslims. Thousands bang drums and set off fireworks, and parade through the streets.

But Jakarta's police chief and Muslim leaders have called on Muslims to stay at home. "Looking at the political situation, which has grown more unpredictable than ever, we urge our members not to go out at night on the eve of Eid al-Fitr," said a senior official with Nahdlatul Ulama, a Muslim organization.

President Wahid, a respected Muslim leader and advocate of religious tolerance, has said that troublemakers want to generate violence among people of different faiths in a bid to oust him and stymie his democratic reform agenda.

Wahid came to office 14 months ago, promising sweeping changes after decades of authoritarian rule, mostly under the former dictator, Suharto.

His inability to fix the economy and quell violent unrest in outlying provinces has prompted calls for his resignation. He has also been implicated in several political scandals.

Members of Indonesia's Christian minority, many of whom are ethnic Chinese, sometimes have been targeted during civil unrest. Among the Jakarta neighborhoods under heavy guard Tuesday was the city's Chinatown, the police spokesman said.

Christian leaders have urged their followers not to seek revenge against Muslims over the bombings.

These attacks have come at the end of a year of rising separatist and sectarian violence across the archipelago nation.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.