Protests In Indonesia, Other Asian Countries, Pakistan Largely Quiet
Muslim groups staged anti-US protests in Indonesia for a third straight day Wednesday but the streets of Pakistan, Asia's other Muslim giant, were relatively quiet after two days of violent demonstrations.
Elsewhere in Asia, Thai Muslims staged their first protests against the US air strikes on Afghanistan, but a call by Osama bin Laden for a "jihad," or holy war, against the United States failed to generate much response.
In Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population, police pushed back up to 1,000 student protesters who were trying to break down the gate of the parliament building.
"America are terrorists" and "Americans and Jews are the real terrorists," shouted the demonstrators, more than half of whom were women.
Several smaller protests were held outside the US embassy, tightly guarded by dozens of police in full riot gear, armed with batons, tear gas launchers and rubber bullets and backed up by a water cannon.
About 300 students listened to anti-American speeches amid shouts of "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) and "jihad." The students demanded President Megawati Sukarnoputri cut diplomatic ties with Washington and its allies.
Megawati strongly denounced the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States which triggered the strikes on Afghanistan and promised to join the global battle against terrorism.
Protests against the US air strikes have been held in a number of Indonesian cities as well as Jakarta but have involved very small numbers compared to past demonstrations over domestic issues.
"These demos are much smaller in terms of numbers than what we've had in the past, though maybe not in terms of militancy," said Rizal Mallarangeng, political analyst from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"In the days when (president) Suharto was being ousted by students and people, then the numbers were at least in the 10,000s. Now I'm not sure if they ever number more than 1,000 in front of the embassy."
"We Indonesian Muslims have never ever felt sympathy for the Taliban," he added, saying protesters represent only radical fringe groups.
Some 80 percent of Indonesia's 210 million people are Muslims. In general they practice a tolerant version of the faith.
In the Pakistani city of Quetta, where five people died Tuesday in anti-US demonstrations, the streets were largely quiet on Wednesday after two days of violence following the US strikes on neighboring Afghanistan.
Officials warned however there could be further demonstrations on Friday, the Muslim holy day, when hardline Islamic religious leaders are due to descend on the city from across Pakistan for anti-US rallies.
At least five people died in Quetta on Tuesday and another 28 were injured as Islamic militants clashed with security forces. One person was also killed in Pakistan in clashes on Monday.
Police and fire stations, banks, UN offices and a shopping plaza were looted and razed as tear gas and black smoke blanketed the city in western Pakistan close to the Afghan border.
Tuesday's rioting was the worst violence since Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf decided last month to back US action against Afghanistan, notably by allowing American warplanes and missiles to pass through Pakistani airspace.
On Tuesday, a lieutenant bin Laden's al-Qaeda group issued a defiant message in which he urged Muslims around the world to join an anti-US holy war.
"From today onwards, the Islamic nation will not keep silent. Jihad today is a duty of every Muslim," al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith said in a message broadcast by the Qatari-based Al-Jazeera satellite television station.
In Muslim Malaysia, the main Islamic opposition party echoed the theme, declaring a jihad over the attacks in Afghanistan and giving the go-ahead for its members to join the fight.
But the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), which has 800,000 members, said its definition of jihad covered a "wide spectrum including calling for peace, calling for justice and not just taking up arms."
"If there are any PAS members who would like to go for jihad, we cannot stop them because jihad is a religious duty," PAS secretary-general Nasaruddin Isa told AFP.
Hundreds of Thai Muslims meanwhile protested for the first time Wednesday outside the US embassy in Bangkok, the second-biggest US mission in the world.
Riot police and US security personnel brandishing M-16 rifles stood guard at the gates as about 200 members of the Thai Muslim Peace Group denounced "Bush -- Big Satan."
In Australia, peace activists called for an end to war. Six people were arrested in the eastern city of Brisbane among about 30 people at an anti-war demonstration outside the recruiting center of Australia's defense department -- JAKARTA (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)