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Public figures call for no rallies during fasting

Jakarta Post - December 19, 1998

Jakarta – A day after clashes between students and security personnel in Jakarta ended with dozens injured on both sides, noted scholars, religious leaders and the military renewed their appeals for an end to demonstrations during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan.

Chairman of the country's largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama, Abdurrahman Wahid, advised students to. desist from rallying – also after Ramadhan – because they had succeeded in initiating the reform movement. Students should focus on public political education through campus activities, he said.

Earlier, the acting chairman of the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI), Ali Yafie said that demonstrations during Ramadhan would not present a problem provided they remained within the limits of what was allowed during fasting. Condemning people and uttering foul words were not allowed, he reminded students. A number of demonstrations demanding an end to rallies during Ramadhan have been staged in recent days. Ramadhan begins on Sunday.

At his residence in Ciganjur, South Jakarta, on Friday, Abdurrahman warned that rallies, and their frequent violence, could foster hostility in a previously supportive public. He said students should be thankful of the gains made even if they did not conform to all their expectations. "Pak Harto (former president Soeharto) is willing to be tried, while President B.J. Habibie's administration is committed to law enforcement."

Security personnel, he added, "should be well-behaved and refrain from hastily hitting or shooting students. That's wrong. They have to be able to organize themselves and avoid committing mistakes".

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Subagyo Hadisiswoyo asserted that demonstrations should be conducted "in accordance with norms of decency and the law", Antara reported. "Do not force security personnel into a clash because it will be a loss to us all," he said at Army headquarters. He appealed to protesters to remember there were only four firearms for every 100 officers during demonstrations.

Nurcholish Madjid, who is the rector of Paramadina University, was quoted by Antara as saying on Friday that it would be better if students refrained from staging rallies to allow the public and the students themselves to concentrate on religious duties.

Nurcholish, who is a former activist himself and chaired the Association of Muslim Students (HMI) in the late 1960s, told a forum of students that Ramadhan was a month for purification, introspection and reflection. "Rallies should be stopped particularly if they are likely to cause public unrest," he told his audience at the Students' Ramadhan Dialog, a three-day forum which ended Friday in East Jakarta. He cited widespread traffic congestion and clashes with security personnel as two factors likely to induce people to act in a manner not in keeping with the spirit of the fasting month.

On Friday, many newspapers carried photographs of students and police clashing on Thursday afternoon. "All student movements should ask themselves what they really want," Nurcholish said.

In Dili, Nobel peace laureate Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo also scolded students and urged them to act with restraint during Ramadhan and around Christmas. "How can you fight for (your) aspirations by parading all over the city?" he w as quoted by Antara as saying on Thursday.

However National Mandate Party chairman Amien Rais said on SCTV on Thursday that if students aired the public's aspirations "in a sweet manner" and did not break rules governing the fasting, then it would be acceptable for them to continue pressing the government for reform during Ramadhan.

Some student groups have said they plan to continue to air their demands in public during Ramadhan, but in ways not provocative to those observing the fasting. Others have said they will confine their political activities to the campus until after Idul Fitri. Rallies, they said, would start in the late afternoon before the breaking of the fast at dusk and more discussions and dialogs would be held.

Rama Pramata from the University of Indonesia suggested last week that students should use Ramadhan to prepare strategies for the run up to the general election scheduled for next June. "There is so much to do ... This is a crucial moment and I suggest that we stop wasting time," Rama said.