- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

JAKARTA, Indonesia, March 19 (UPI) — Lawmakers and Muslim groups in Indonesia — home to the world's largest Muslim population — urged the government Wednesday to cut diplomatic ties with the United States should Washington attack Iraq, while the country braced for a wave of anti-American demonstrations.

"If the U.S. attacks Iraq, we will withdraw the Indonesian ambassador to the U.S.," said Ibrahim Ambong, chairman of the security and foreign affairs commission at the House of Representative, Indonesia's lower house.

Ambong condemned President George W. Bush's ultimatum for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave their homeland by 8 p.m. EST Wednesday or risk attack led by U.S., British and Australian forces. He urged the government to take a "firm stand" by immediately withdrawing the Indonesian ambassador to Washington should the attack touch off.

About 100 protesters from two Indonesian youth organizations staged protest rally Wednesday outside the U.S. embassy in Jakarta. Demonstrators from the Indonesian Muslim Youth Movement yelled anti-U.S. slogans and called on Washington to stop its plan to attack Iraq. They later marched to the U.N. building, located about 500 yards away, before continuing to the British embassy, witnesses said.

"America is the real terrorist," shouted some protesters. "This (the U.S. Embassy) building is shut down," declared a huge banner.

As Bush's deadline to Saddam neared, several Islamic youth organizations in Indonesia have planned to launch mass anti-U.S. demonstrations, activists said.

Anshor, a Muslim youth organization affiliated with Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Islamic group, echoed Ambong's demand for expelling U.S. diplomats and added those of its allies should go if war breaks out. A statement by the group warned that if the diplomats not leave voluntarily within 48 hours from the start of hostilities "there will be the possibility of a forced expulsion by the people."

Anshor's leader Munawar Fuad Noeh also told United Press International, "Moral action could be taken through various means. We also considering of calling for a national boycott for the American products and those of its allies."

Noeh warned that U.S.-based companies operating across the country, such as Freeport and ExxonMobil, could be in danger from Indonesians who might shut down their operations.

Through the day Wednesday government officials attempted to restrain the rising anti-Americanism. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the coordinating minister for Security and Political Affairs, criticized calls for boycotts and severed diplomatic ties.

"If we cut off diplomatic ties with the U.S. and Britain, boycott products from those countries and pull out our embassy staff from the United States, is this in keeping with our national interests?" Yudhoyono asked.

While the government understands the concerns and anger of certain groups within the Indonesian community opposed to Bush's ultimatum, Yudhoyono explained, people need to consider Indonesia's prime interest — pursuing the development of its economy, society and political system.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri on Tuesday expressed no objection to people attending protest rallies to express their solidarity with Iraq, but she hoped they would be staged in an orderly manner to prevent instability.

"I say if (it is done) orderly without violence, go ahead," Megawati said, adding as Indonesia itself hopes for a peaceful solution, so should the demonstrators behave.

"Do not act against that wish or we will again see an unstable Indonesia," she warned. "Indonesia as a member of the world community also hosts foreign guests who need to be protected and respected and therefore we have to do that."

Nearly 88 percent of Indonesia's 220 million people are Muslims. The country has staunchly opposed a U.S.-led war against Iraq, and urged the Bush administration to work through the United Nations in persuading Saddam to destroy his alleged stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.

Religious organizations in Indonesia have already staged several peaceful demonstrations against U.S. plans to invade Iraq without the consent of the U.N. Security Council.

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