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Muslim party blames ulamas for inciting Central Java riots

Straits Times - April 1, 1997

Jakarta – Indonesia's main Muslim party has accused a number of ulamas of inciting last week's riots in a small Central Java town, a report said yesterday.

The United Development Party's (PPP) deputy secretary for Central Java, Mr Harminto Agustono, said a number of ulamas (Muslim leaders) had delivered religious sermons which "provoked" social unrest, the Indonesian Observer said.

The ulamas were neither the PPP's "functionary members nor its preachers, but only its sympathisers", Mr Agustono said on Sunday in Central Java's capital, Semarang.

He said his party had filed complaints with the local authorities about the ulamas' actions, but did not elaborate.

One of the ulamas accused of inciting the riots, Mr Affinuddin Musitari, dismissed Mr Agustono's allegations as "slander".

A mob of around 1,000 people vandalised more than 60 buildings, mostly shops owned by ethnic Chinese, and burned scores of vehicles in the normally sleepy town of Pekalongan on Wednesday.

The riots were preceded on Monday by the burning of an open air stage prepared for a pop concert organised by the ruling Golkar party which was to feature pop star Rhoma Irama, who recently crossed over from the PPP to Golkar, to the chagrin of many PPP followers.

Angered by the concert organisers' move to remove PPP flags from around the venue of the concert, people attacked and burned the stage.

The concert went ahead on Wednesday night despite the tense situation, attended by President Suharto's eldest daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, a Golkar executive and legislative candidate for Central Java. Trials for around 30 people accused of being involved in the riots were under way, Pekalongan police chief Lieutenant-Colonel Triyono said on Sunday.

He said four people still remained in hospital following the riots.

A Pekalongan resident told AFP yesterday after the riots that many shops were painted green, the PPP's official colour, adding that the town was returning to normal slowly following the riots.

Central Java has been a political battleground, with the PPP accusing the authorities of assisting Golkar in the campaign for the May 29 general election. Pekalongan is a PPP stronghold.

Golkar has received widespread criticism for using government facilities and officials to gain support in general elections.

Indonesia has in recent months been rocked by a series of ethnic and religious riots, which have left scores dead and more than 100 buildings vandalised or burned. – AFP.