Surabaya – Thousands of people in East Java armed with knives, sticks and metal chains blocked a planned visit yesterday by Muslim leader Amien Rais to a town near Indonesia's second city of Surabaya, residents said.
Mr Rais, leader of the country's second largest Muslim group who said on Monday he was prepared to run for the presidency, had been invited by one of the local Muslim schools to give a public address.
Residents said thousands of people, many carrying knives, sticks and other weapons, blocked roads in Pasuruan, about 70km south of Surabaya. "We are ready to kill Amien Rais if he dares to enter Pasuruan. We need food, not politics," said Abubakar, a student leader from a Muslim religious school in the town.
East Java, with a number of industries concentrated in the Surabaya area, has been hard hit by Indonesia's current economic crisis, with frequent demonstrations against rising prices and unemployment and attacks on the local ethnic Chinese business community. Mr Rais has condemned attacks on the Chinese community, a frequent target during hard times in Indonesia. On Monday, he told a meeting in Jakarta the Chinese were "an integral part and parcel of the whole nation" and should not be discriminated against.
Demonstrators yesterday called Mr Rais' Islamic Muhammadiyah organisation, which claims a membership of 28 million, a sectarian group. They also accused him of colluding with US President Bill Clinton to foment separatist movements in East Timor and Irian Jaya.
In another incident, Jakarta's governor Sutiyoso said yesterday that an unidentified person had thrown home-made bombs at his house late on Monday night. "Two petrol bombs were thrown," the governor's security officer said. "One exploded, but only set the floor of the guard post on fire."
Mr Sutiyoso, who was formerly the Jakarta military chief, said he had handed the matter over to the police to investigate. "Last night's bombing was just the work of one crazy person," Mr Sutiyoso was quoted as saying by the state-run Antara news agency.
Meanwhile, Jakarta police chief Major-General Nugroho Djayusman denied that the bombs thrown at the governor's house were molotov cocktails, as reported by the local press. "There was no report claiming it was molotov cocktails," Maj-Gen Djayusman said. The security officer said the governor was at home at the time but was unaware of the bombing until the next day.
[On August 4 the Straits Times reported that Rais has said the 170,000 figure for the number of Chinese who fled the country in the aftermath of the riots was exaggerated. On August 3, Rais told guests at luncheon in Jakarta "It is a blown-up figure, just like when the Israelis said that six million Jews had been killed in World War II". The report also said that his organisation planned to launch a political party on independence day, August 17 - James Balowski.]