12/01/2016, 13.49
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Unity will defeat sectarianism: demonstrations across the country against Islamic fundamentalists

by Mathias Hariyadi

Thousands of people took to the streets in 33 provinces to defend Indonesia’s founding principle of ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’, unity in diversity. Wearing red and white ribbons (the colours of the national flag) lay people, religious and members of the military sent a message to the radical movements that want to divide the country.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Thousands of people from all walks of life – lay people, religious, military – took to the streets yesterday in a peaceful demonstration in 33 Indonesian provinces to defend Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, unity in diversity.

Wearing red and white ribbons (the colours of the Indonesian flag), people celebrated the values ​​that underpin the country's unity to counter extremist Islamist currents that try to divide the nation.

The march was held two days before a big demonstration by Islamic fundamentalists is set to take place against Jakarta’s Christian governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama who has been  accused of blasphemy.

Tensions rose in Jakarta and across the country after radical movements (especially the Islamic Defenders Front) vowed to occupy Jakarta’s central streets despite the warnings from the police and army. On 28 November, march organisers and the authorities agreed on its route.

On 4 November, a big march by Islamists turned violent after political agitators infiltrated it in order to discredit President Joko Widodo, an ally of Governor Ahok.

Yesterday's demonstration, participants say, is a direct message to Islamist parties, saying that those who want to defend Indonesia's identity, based on respect and tolerance of diversity, are far larger than some might think.

In Jakarta various Catholic leaders (priests, sisters and lay people) took part in the rally in front of the National Monument (Monas), side by side with leading military and civilian figures. This is the second event of its kind since that of 19 November.

After its independence on 17 August 1945, Indonesia recognised six religions: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. The "ancestral beliefs" professed by some ethnic groups are also tolerated.

The nation was founded on the five principles of Pancasila, which Indonesia’s first president Sukarno included as a preamble to the country’s secular Constitution. These principles are belief in one God, justice and human civilisation, national unity, democracy guided by wisdom, and social justice.

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