Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesia is on the verge of a possible civil war. Indeed a conflict with unpredictable consequences broke out yesterday afternoon and last night between members of the Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) and the Islamic Defender Front (Front Pembela Islam or FPI). Tens of people were hurt in the incidents with victims accusing the police of doing nothing. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has appealed for calm, asking law enforcement agencies to arrest those who are violent.
The spark that set off the whole chain of events was an attack with sticks and stones by activists from the FPI, Indonesia’s best known radical Islamic group, against hundred of members of the National Alliance for Religious Freedom (Aliansi Kebangsaan dan Kebebasan Beragama dan Berkeyakinan or AKKBB), who were campaigning in favour of religious freedom. Members of the NU, the largest moderate Islamic group led by former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, were among those attacked as were Christians and members of the Ahmadiyah community, a Muslim group considered heretical.
At least 10 people from the AKKBB were seriously hurt and taken to a hospital, including International Centre for Islam and Pluralism Executive Director Syafii Anwar, Wahid Institute Executive Director Ahmad Suaedy, and Muslim “guru” Kiai Hajj Maman Imanulhaq from Cirebon (300 kilometres east of Jakarta), head of an Islamic educational institute.
Last night some NU youth wing members (santri in the local language) attacked the local FPI offices in Cirebon. According to Indonesian sources, the million-strong NU, which includes structured paramilitary groups, is though to be preparing for other attacks.
Some of the victims criticised the police for doing nothing at the time of the first attack which took place near the Tugu Monas or National Monument in central Jakarta.
In justifying police force inaction Police Chief Heru Winarko said that any move on their part could have made “the situation worse.”
For his part Abdurrahman Wahid is touring Jakarta hospitals visiting the injured. At a press conference he expressed his sadness for the turn of events, but also criticised the government’s actions, too slow in his opinion in its response to FPI violence. If the government does not act, he told journalists, “I’ll do it.”
In an attempt to defuse tensions and avoid further clashes, President Susilo also held a press conference this morning in which he condemned the “hostile gesture by the FPI which caused injuries to so many people,” and called on the police “to bring these criminals to justice.”