- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2001

MANILA Muslims across Southeast Asia are continuing to vent anger over the U.S.-led strike against Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, but their protests are doing little to dampen official support for the anti-terrorism drive.
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who has invited in U.S. advisers to help fight terrorists in the Muslim south, has not been swayed by protests here calling for an end to the 3-week-old bombing campaign in Afghanistan.
In neighboring Indonesia, the world's largest Islamic country, Vice President Hamzah Haz has reversed his own call for anti-U.S. demonstrations, warning that the country could face economic disaster if it fails to guarantee the security of foreign investors.
"Being from a Muslim-based party, I understand the feelings of Muslims," he said at an Islamic conference in Jakarta earlier this week. "If these rallies continue, we are going to face more economic hardship. If we can't get out of this economic crisis, we will all collapse."
It's a dilemma faced by other Asian leaders.
"It's a balancing act for many of these countries," said a Western diplomat. "They can't afford to alienate their own people, but on the other hand they recognize that the U.S. is the only superpower and often their major trading partner."
Last week, protestors led by the Islamic Defenders' Front clashed with Indonesian police at an anti-U.S. rally in front of the House of Representatives. When they refused to disperse, police fired warning shots, tear gas and water cannons in a melee that led to 12 arrests.
Protests in Manila have been more orderly but likewise call for an end to the U.S. bombing that began Oct. 7. But unlike Jakarta, leftists rather than Muslims make up the largest contingent of those gathering outside the U.S. Embassy.
Carrying placards demanding "Justice Not War," the Philippine protests peaked last week when Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo traveled to a gathering of world leaders in Shanghai, where she took a position in full support of President Bush. The leaders gathered at the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum condemned the terrorist attacks on the United States but stopped short of endorsing the bombing campaign.
Meanwhile in Manila, a crowd of perhaps 1,500 leftists faced off with about 1,000 policemen, while a small group of Muslim Filipinos dressed in traditional garb stood to one side, holding a photo of an Afghan woman cowering under the shadow of U.S. bombers.
While Indonesia and neighboring Malaysia are predominantly Muslim nations, the Philippines where Muslims account for just 5 percent of the population also has much at stake in the war on terrorism.
The Abu Sayyaf, a group of about 2,000 Muslim rebels-turned-kidnappers in the southern Philippines, has been holding two Americans hostage since May.
Their two-year rampage of kidnapping, extortion and murder have tarred the country's international image.
"They don't pose a threat to our national security," Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes said in an interview. "They are bandits. But they get broadcast on CNN, and it chases away foreign investment and tourists."
Indonesia and Malaysia have staked out anti-terrorist positions but continue to oppose the U.S.-led bombardment of Afghanistan, largely in deference to their Muslim populations.

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