Indonesia peaceful as Muslim fasting ends


JAKARTA, Reuters

Millions of Muslims packed mosques, fields and stadiums around Indonesia on Wednesday to mark the end of the fasting month, but celebrations were clouded by fears of an explosion of religious violence.

Tens of thousands of police were on alert in Jakarta and across the archipelago after warnings that a wave of Christmas Eve church bombings could trigger more attacks in the world’s largest Muslim country during one of Islam’s holiest holidays.

But the situation remained peaceful, and there were no reports by late afternoon of trouble. Shops and businesses closed and the streets of Jakarta were largely empty as people prayed or visited friends and relatives.

Fearing revenge attacks over bombings on Sunday that killed at least 13 and wounded dozens, police and Muslim leaders appealed for people to tone down celebrations.

But the appeals went unheeded on Tuesday night. Millions paraded through the streets of Jakarta and cities and villages across the country chanting the name of Allah and setting off fireworks in festivities that lasted through the night.

There was no trouble, although local media reported at least one person was killed and scores injured by fireworks.

Sunday’s attacks were described by President Abdurrahman Wahid as an effort to destabilize his already shaky government.

“This is clearly a barbaric and inhumane action which has made victims of innocent people,” Wahid told reporters on Wednesday at the Saint Carolus Catholic hospital, where he spoke to six people wounded in the attacks.

“The motive is pretty clear. The motive is political.

“Praise the Lord that one or two people have been arrested and we hope from them we can disclose the network and identify who is the mastermind.”

Asked if the military, blamed for inciting other violence, could be involved, he said: “Let the investigation solve it. I myself have my own suspects, but no evidence.”

Two men are in police custody in hospital in the West Java city of Bandung, suspected of making a bomb that exploded as they were taking it to a local church.