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Students to protest during Ramadan

Agence France Presse - December 16, 1998

Jakarta – Indonesian students have vowed to pursue their pro-reform protests during the the Moslem fasting month of Ramadan despite calls by the religious affairs minister to halt street protests, reports said Wednesday.

"Even during fasting month it is right to fight for the truth. The returns will be abundant," student activist Abdullah was quoted by the Media Indonesia as saying.

Abdullah, a student activist from the "Student Front for Reform and Democracy" (Famred), said it was not right to link student demonstrations to devoutness during Ramadan because such activities were not taboo during the holy month.

Religious affairs minister Malik Fajar has called on students in this world's largest Moslem-populated nation to halt the almost-daily protests and respect Ramadan. "I urge that we undertake this fasting month in a cool and conducive atmosphere and therefore demonstrations should be halted during the fasting month," Fajar said.

Student activist Shantoy from University of Indonesia said however that students might change their mode of demonstration. "In principle, we respect the fasting month but acts of protest will continue. Therefore we are still looking for a way to demonstrate that will not disturb fasting," Shantoy said.

Irwan Wijaya from the "Jakarta Student Senate Communication Forum" said the group has found a way to demonstrate during Ramadan, namely asking for public sympathy. However, the "City Forum" student grouping, one of the largest encompassing some 50 schools, said they would eat and drink with residents on the sideroads during the dawn breaking of the fast.

The Moslem fasting month of Ramadan, when Moslems fast from sunrise to sundown, will start in Indonesia on December 20.

The Indonesian capital has been the scene of almost daily street demonstrations in the past months, mostly to demand a trial of former president Suharto and the scrapping of the military's role in politics.

The protests have caused massive traffic snarls. Security forces have added to them by using road blocks to keep the students away from main avenues leading to "strategic buildings" such as the Merdeka presidential Palace, the national parliament and Suharto's residence.