Indonesia braces for Friday protests
By Atika Shubert
JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Indonesia weathered a fourth consecutive day of anti-American protests Thursday as police braced for even larger demonstrations expected to follow Friday prayers.
The latest demonstrations saw approximately 1,000 protesters march on the American Embassy demanding that the Indonesian government break off diplomatic relations with the United States.
At the same time a small radical group, the Defenders of Islam, announced that it had begun "sweeping" for Americans and other nationals it considered to be U.S. allies in order to forcibly evict them from Indonesia.
The only incident reported by police, however, was a thwarted attempt by members of the group to enter the popular Jalan Jaksa tourist area in central Jakarta.
Neighbors were able to turn the militant group away without any violence.
Stoking Anti-U.S. Sentiment
Across Indonesia radical Islamic groups are actively recruiting the student movement to join in demonstrations against the U.S.-led strikes on Afghanistan, further stoking anti-American sentiment.
On Wednesday, student groups in the Cental Java town of Yogyakarta "sealed off" a McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet by placing stickers around the premises urging a boycott of all American products.
Anti-US protests are expected to peak on Friday when dozens of radical groups and student organizations have threatened to take to the streets after Friday prayers.
The Indonesian government is walking a tightrope between political alliances with the West and radical Islamic groups at home.
Protests are putting the government and in particular the still relatively new President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, under increasing pressure to take a tougher stand against the U.S. strikes in Afghanistan.
'Proof and evidence'
At the same time, U.S. State Department officials are now pinpointing extremist groups in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines as having links with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.
The Indonesian government has not made an official response but members of parliament bristled at the idea of U.S. action in Indonesia.
"If they want to accuse Indonesian groups of being part of a terrorist network, America should offer proof and evidence" said Ibrahim Ambong, chairman of Indonesia's parliament commission on security, defense and foreign affairs.
"The U.S. has already shown its brutality in Afghanistan. If the U.S. insists on these accusations against Indonesia, I fear the public will not react favorably."
Megawati has yet to make any statement on the military strikes in Afghanistan.
She will meet with political party leaders Friday morning for an informal discussion of recent developments.
They are expected to press her to take a firmer stand against the U.S. strikes.
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