Tomi Soetjipto, Jakarta – Indonesian police fired warning shots, teargas and water cannon during a clash with 400 Muslim protesters outside the US embassy in Jakarta on Tuesday in a clear sign authorities will clamp down on anti-American violence.
Police took their first tough action against sporadic protests over US-led attacks on Islamic Afghanistan after demonstrators began shaking barbed wire erected in front of the embassy around midday.
Witnesses said two policemen and a protester were hurt, mainly hit by rocks thrown during scuffles between the opposing groups. In two other Indonesian cities, Muslim demonstrators burned effigies of US President George W. Bush. "Long live Osama [bin Laden]! America is the terrorist! God is Great!," the protesters chanted before the clash erupted outside the embassy.
The Jakarta protesters dispersed after police fired warning shots over their heads. By mid-afternoon, some returned to the embassy and were joined by other small groups, all of whom began to leave after darkness fell.
Few in the world's largest Muslim country back the views of radicals threatening violence against Americans and foreign assets although many oppose the strikes on Afghanistan, launched after suicide hijack attacks on the United States last month killed about 5,600 people.
Washington says bin Laden, a Saudi-born militant sheltered by the Taliban in Afghanistan, masterminded those attacks. The US embassy in Jakarta is closed and has become the focal point of protests by radical Muslim groups in the city, which otherwise was back to its bustling self after fears of widespread violence kept many residents at home on Monday.
Effigies of Bush burned
The protesters involved in the clash outside the US embassy earlier rallied in front of the United Nations office in Jakarta.
In Surabaya, capital of East Java and Indonesia's second largest city, some 200 protesters rallied outside the US consulate and burned an effigy of Bush. In the eastern city of Makassar on Sulawesi island, dozens of protesters did the same thing. There was no violence in either protest.
Much attention has focused on a Thursday deadline given to President Megawati Sukarnoputri by the small but vocal Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) to sever ties with Washington. They have threatened to expel Americans and other foreigners and destroy foreign assets if she does not. Some analysts doubt whether the threat will be carried out, especially since police have warned of harsh reprisals.
Megawati has not said anything publicly about the US-led strikes that began on Sunday, in keeping with her usual aversion to making statements about sensitive policy matters.
She needs Muslim support but also desperately needs Western investment and aid to keep Indonesia's economy afloat. About 90 percent of Indonesia's 210 million people follow Islam, although most have moderate views.
The country's largest Muslim group, the 40 million-strong Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), urged Indonesians not to harm foreigners. "[Foreigners] should not be harmfully treated," NU chief Hasyim Muzadi told Reuters. There are tens of thousands of Americans, Britons and citizens from other US allies in Indonesia.
Jakarta back to normal, security tight
Security remains tight in Jakarta with extra police and water cannon trucks posted outside the US ambassador's residence. International schools are closed and the US, Australian and British embassies have advised their nationals to stay at home. The US and British embassies were closed on Tuesday as a precautionary measure. It was unclear when they would reopen.
Jakarta has urged Washington and its allies to limit their attacks but stopped short of criticising them, a stance that could stoke more anger among radical Muslim groups.
The NU said the government's position on the raids on Afghanistan did not send a clear enough message. "Our principle should be world peace without taking sides nor using double standards," Muzadi said. "The NU is against the attacks on Afghanistan. Our reason is that Osama's wrongdoing has not been proven. A frontal attack indeed will cause casualties among those who are not involved at all in the terrorist activities."