09/09/2010, 00.00
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Millions of Indonesians on the move for the feast of Idul Fitri

The long holiday ends Ramadan. Traditionally Muslims return to their hometown to celebrate. Mile long traffic jams around large cities, long trips that last hours. Christians organize free refreshment centres.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Tens of millions of Muslims are on the move to reach their family to celebrate Idul Fitri, which marks the end of the holy month of fasting of Ramadan. From Jakarta alone more than 8 million people have left, heading toward their native towns in West Java, Central Java, East Java and Sumatra.

The same is true across the country: ports and airports are besieged by long queues of people returning home for Lebaran, as the holiday is called here.

This year the mudik (return to one’s home town) already started 2-3 days ago, when thousands of servants and workers left Jakarta taking slower and cheaper routes by trucks or even bicycles. In Jakarta on these occasions it is common to see entire families travel on small motorcycles: the father in front and mother behind, with two or three children clinging in between. It is expected that at least 1.6 million people will travel by motorcycle from Jakarta to avoid the high cost of rail and bus transport.

The long Idul Fitri holiday this year lasts from 9 to 14 September. The main Islamic groups disagree on the exact date of the holiday, but people feel that it falls on  September 10 and 11.

For large cities such as Jakarta alternative routes were set out, but this has failed to prevent heavy congestion, the heavy presence of bicycles, cars and vehicles of all kinds. In major cities yesterday and the day before yesterday it took hours to cover one kilometre of road. In previous years during the holiday, the journey from Jakarta to Yogyakarta could take over 30 hours, compared to 12 hour drive required in normal periods of the year.

At dawn yesterday, the eastern exit toll in Cikampek saw a long queue already 12 kilometres, with thousands of vehicles in a row. Once past that point, the travelers found themselves blocked by another traffic jam at Simpang Jomini. Only hours later, the police - these days almost entirely committed to controlling the exodus - decided to block all incoming traffic and direct it towards the alternative pathway through Subang-Cikamurang-Ciremon, relieving traffic on the Pantura highway. Over 100 vehicles per minute passed through this alternative route. Traffic authorities expect more than 600 thousand vehicles to take to the roads north and south of West Java. From Tuesday morning to Wednesday morning at least 41 thousand vehicles travelled via Cikampek, leaving Jakarta.

To help the exodus, the Christian communities of Semarang, Central Java, have set up refreshment centres. The Karangsaru Christian Church established The Peduli Kasih, refreshment centre, in the main street of Sultan Agung, which connects the suburbs of the southern part of Semarang Central Java where there are populous cities like Yogyakarta and Surakarta. In these centres free drinks, food and medical care are offered, "only for humanitarian reasons," says Pastor Ralumat Rajaguguk Paska, who oversees the work of 20 Christian volunteers. (MH)

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