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Indonesian protests fail to draw crowds

Water cannon disperse Muslim students and activists after Friday prayers.
Water cannon disperse Muslim students and activists after Friday prayers.  


By Atika Shubert
CNN Jakarta

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Fewer than 1,000 people showed up to demonstrate in front of the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta Friday, despite threats from radical Indonesian Islamic groups that thousands would flood the streets to protest the strikes over Afghanistan.

Small but peaceful protests were also held in several other cities in Indonesia.

In anticipation of trouble security forces deployed more than 5,000 police on the streets of the capital.

They used water cannon to prevent demonstrators from burning an effigy of U.S. President George W. Bush, but little else in the way of trouble was reported.

Elsewhere in the country security forces say they are investigating an explosion in a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in Makassar, South Sulawesi that went off in the early hours.

A second explosive device was found nearby inside the offices of Canadian insurance company, Manulife.

Across Indonesia several fast-food franchises with U.S. ties, such as KFC and McDonalds, have been threatened by anti-American protesters over the last week.

However, the small numbers who turned out for Friday's protests seemed to indicate a lack of popular support for the more radical groups who have threatened to attack American citizens and other nationals considered "allies".

Anti-U.S. protests have become a daily feature of several Indonesian cities, particularly in the nation's capital, Jakarta.

Holy day

Megawati
Megawati has made little public comment on the U.S.-led airstrikes  

Expectations were high that the first Friday since the airstrikes began would see an upsurge in protests by Islamic activists after the midday prayers.

The hours following prayers on Friday, the Muslim holy day, have become a time for Indonesian religious groups to rally demonstrations and air their grievances.

"If this is to happen -- to have larger demonstrations -- it would be today," Indonesian Foreign Minister Hasan Wirayudha told reporters earlier Friday.

"If we pass this test," he said, "then hopefully there will be much less of this -- although, this also depends on what happens in Afghanistan."

"Perhaps there is a gap here between their intentions to kill and simply the expression of their feelings," Wirayudha added, referring to the radical Islamic groups.

At its peak last month, radical groups were able to round up some 2,000 protesters in a protest staged before the initiation of U.S. strikes over Afghanistan.

However, in the past week Indonesian security forces have applied heavy pressure on religious groups to refrain from rowdy demonstrations.

Megawati criticized

Police have called in several leaders of radical Islamic youth groups for questioning, although none have been arrested.

Since the strikes began there has been growing criticism of Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri for failing to take a clear and definitive stand.

"We are convinced that President Megawati has the ability to reach out to the people, but we are at a loss as to why she is choosing to remain silent at such a critical time," the Jakarta Post daily said in its Friday editorial.

On Friday morning, Megawati met with leaders of parliament for a routine discussion at which she was pressed by the speaker of the House of Representatives, Akbar Tanjung, to take a firmer stand against US strikes.

"Namely, something different than the current position," he told reporters after the meeting.

Megawati later acknowledged the criticism in a press conference following the discussion but offered few details on how the government would respond.

"The government has been asked to be more pro-active in looking at the situation," she said.

"We will keep monitoring and evaluating further developments."



 
 
 
 



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