Damar Harsanto and Hanifah Abu, Jakarta – Over a thousand demonstrators from several militant groups here staged rallies on Monday in front of the heavily guarded US Embassy, protesting the US-led strikes against Afghanistan which they called a form of terrorism.
The protesters represented various organizations across Jakarta including the Association of Islamic Students (HMI), the Indonesian Muslim Movement (GPI), the Indonesian Muslim Workers Union (PPMI), a Muslim women's group Yayasan Da'wah Ummahatul Muslimah, Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and HAMMAS.
Ali Nurman, chairman of HMI's Jakarta branch said that the demonstration on Monday was only an initial step to rally against the US "We will come again on Friday in larger numbers," he vowed.
The demonstrations began at 1.30pm with about 300 students of HMI, led by Ali. The protesters, many of them carrying sharpened bamboos sticks with banners attached to them, could not get close to the embassy as the police had installed a barbed wire barricade in front of the compound at 9.30am. Two armored vehicles and one police truck were seen parked near the embassy, while hundreds of police tightly guarded the embassy in two lines: one outside the gates, while another stood behind the barbed wire with batons and shields.
The demonstration proceeded relatively peacefully, marked by only minor incidents. At 4.30pm, some students of HAMMAS set fire to an American flag and stamped on it, but did not continue further destructive actions.
Demonstrators almost clashed with police when an FPI protester tried to stop plainclothes police from examining an FPI car. The quarrel drew attention and raised tension among the crowd, but the police managed to calm the protesters.
FPI coordinator Siradj Alwi said his group would camp outside the embassy, saying that they had provided food for members. "We will camp here for several days until our demands are met," he told reporters.
All the groups were united in condemning the US attacks, but divided in their stance over "sweeps" on American people and whether or not the government should sever diplomatic ties with the US
FPI and Hammas strongly supported the call by the Indonesian Ulema's Council for the government to break diplomatic relations with the US, while others maintained a softer stance on the issue. "We urge the government to terminate its ties with the US and its Western allies," FPI said in a statement to the media.
It also called for its members to dispatch "mujahidins" [soldiers ready for jihad] to Afghanistan to help the country and Islam. FPI and Hammas also distributed brochures urging the public to hold sweeps on all American people here.
But other groups disagreed with their stance, saying it would backfire on Islam as a peaceful religion. "I don't agree with the sweeps on Americans as it will damage Islam's image as a religion which propagates peace and love," Aliyah, 71, a coordinator of Yayasan Da'wah said.
Sharing a similar concern with Aliyah, Ali said his group also condemned such actions, saying that it would denigrate Islam into a violent movement. "Such a move should not be taken," he told reporters.
Meanwhile, Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso called on Jakarta residents not to overreact over the US attack against Afghanistan. "We ask the public to remain calm. If they want to conduct demonstrations, it should be conducted according to procedures," said Sutiyoso.
He said the administration urged residents not to conduct "sweeping' or any violence against foreigners, promising that the administration would help provide security for foreigners.
He said any violence against foreigners and their assets would ruin Indonesia's reputation. "We will suffer losses if we react emotionally and express our solidarity through violence," the governor said after meeting religious leaders at City Hall.