- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 9, 2003

JAKARTA, Indonesia, March 9 (UPI) — Hundreds of thousands of Muslims took part in a huge prayer rally at two separate Indonesian cities Sunday to protest a possible war in Iraq.

In the capital of Jakarta, tens of thousands of Muslims led by the country's most popular and charismatic preacher Abdullah Gymnastiar gathered at Monas square, just outside the U.S. embassy.

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Wearing white shirts and head dress for female activists, the protestors shouting "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Great," chanting for peace. Before marching to the Monas square, the protestors gathered for prayer at the Istiqlal Grand Mosque.

Gymastiar, known also as Aa Gym, criticized George W. Bush, accused the United States president of arrogance for ignoring the world's community as well as ignoring international organizations just for his own interests.

"He (Bush) seems to be happy and satisfied if he saw the bodies of the Iraqi people (and) blood scattered everywhere," he said. He warned that "arrogance will never win sympathy."

In an open letter, entitled "Message of Peace to Mr. Bush" handed to officials at the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, Gymnastiar questioned the why the U.S. president insists on launching a military attack against Iraq which will kill human beings.

"Do you really represent the people of United States? Because evidence had shown that some of the American people are opposed to the war," Gymnastiar added.

He also warned the United States that a "military attack against Iraq would only trigger hatred, and hatred is a threat for the U.S."

Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation, is home to the world's largest Islamic community. Nearly 88 percent of its 220 million people are Muslims. The country has repeatedly stated its opposition to any unilateral attack on Iraq, although it is close to the United States on many other issues.

Hours earlier, tens of thousands of Muslims staged another peaceful rally in the East Java capital of Surabaya, the country's second largest city, about 400 miles east of Jakarta.

Organized by Indonesia's largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and broadcast live, the participants read from the Quran and chanted for peace.

Present at the anti-war rally in East Java were Foreign Minister Hasan Wirayuda, Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil, Religious Affairs Minister Said Agil Husin al-Munawar, Army Chief Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu and former president Abdurrahman Wahid.

NU chairman Hasyim Muzadi said in a brief address to the gathering the rally was to seek help and guidance from God for the safety of the nation and to petition for "prosperity," while seeking help for the world and for the hope the "war would not break out in Iraq."

The organization accused the United States of violating the United Nations charter if Washington unilaterally attacked Iraq.

Officials feared a new wave of anti-American protests could break out throughout Indonesia should the United States go ahead with its plans to attack Iraq.

Daily demonstrations took place for weeks in October 2001 in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, along with calls for boycotts of American goods and threats of sweepings detentions of U.S. citizens, although none were actually carried out.

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