09/13/2004, 00.00
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Presidential elections in jeopardy after attack

by Mathias Hariyadi

For Mgr Ranjith, Papal Nuncio in Jakarta, more interfaith dialogue is needed to counter hatred.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Last Thursday's attack against the Australian Embassy might influence the upcoming presidential run-off between Megawati Sukarnoputri and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono scheduled for September 20.

"The bombing will be interpreted as a sign that Megawati's government is incapable of ensuring security and has to be replaced," said analyst Indria Samego. In a situation of fear and threats former General and Security Minister Susilo's military background might work to his advantage. "People are searching for safety and this state of alert will give him another push," the analyst said.

Whilst condemning the attack some religious leaders have expressed concern that it might harm the reputation of the country's Muslim population. They repeatedly stressed that the attack was not religiously motivate and could not be assimilated to conflicts in Ambon, Moluccas and Poso in central Sulawesi.

The Papal Nuncio in Indonesia, Mgr Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige, shares this view.

"I strongly doubt," the Nuncio said, "that the latest bomb attack has its roots in religious conflict. No religion –not even Islam– teaches its adherents to be hostile to others, no religion legitimises violence as a way to achieve something." The Vatican Ambassador went on to say that "good communication and a good relationship between religious leaders should be enhanced to minimise the possibility of misunderstanding that so easily triggers a sentiment of hatred among their followers."

Professor Azyumardi Azra, Rector of the Islamic Studies Institute, agrees. "It is more important now to enhance good relations between religious leaders than blaming certain groups," he said.

Hasyim Muzadi, candidate to the vice presidency and a member of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country's largest Islamic organisation, called on the government not to take advantage of the situation for partisan purposes. "The police was too quick to blame Jemaah Islamiyah, which is linked to al-Qaeda, without any evidence," he said. "In doing so they seem to be accusing Muslims for the attack and have ended up denigrating us without reasons."

Ismail Yusanto, spokesperson for the Muslim organisation Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, also warned against possible manipulation. "The police should not use the embassy attack to discredit Indonesian Muslims," he said. "We condemn the attack and disassociate ourselves from its authors."

The Bali Hindu Students' Association expressed sorrow for the victims and called Thursday's attack "a tragedy for the whole of Indonesia".

The attack comes a month before Australia's parliamentary elections. In the statement claiming responsibility released on an Islamic website the day after the attack, Jemaah said: "We decided to call Australia to account, which we consider one of the worst enemies [. . .] of Islam". Investigators are still trying to determine the message's authenticity.

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