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Despite fear, Indonesia marks Christmas in peace JAKARTA - Christians flocked to churches in Muslim countries across Asia on Wednesday for Christmas services that have passed peacefully despite concerns over possible bomb attacks by Islamic militants. In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, the mood was festive but sombre in the wake of violence that has bedevilled the country, such as church bombings two years ago that killed 19 people and October bomb blasts in Bali that left almost 200 dead, mostly foreigners.
"It should be that Christmas does not make people scared like it does these days. It seems that anywhere we go, we are full of fear," priest Yong Ohoitimur told worshippers at a church in Manado, a predominantly Christian city in Indonesia's east. Indonesia, where Christians represent about 10 percent of the country's 210 million people, has grappled with years of communal and ethnic violence, and now has to deal with Islamic militancy.
A regional militant Muslim network, Jemaah Islamiah, is suspected of being behind the Bali blasts. Hundreds of thousands of police and soldiers, many armed with automatic weapons, were deployed outside churches and other public places across the archipelago. Worshippers had to pass through metal detectors or were frisked before entering.
"To be honest I'm quite worried but what can you do. I can only surrender to God," said 27-year-old banker Bambang Setiawan before attending a service at Jakarta's colonial-era cathedral. Britain had warned its citizens to avoid churches in Indonesia. The United States and Australia had earlier urged its nationals of fresh terror attacks during the holiday season.
"The heavy security helps make us feel safer, but speaking of death, it can take place anywhere. It doesn't have to be in a church," said 31-year-old businessman Andi Suwandi in Jakarta.

Tight security

While Indonesia has been peaceful so far, a bomb in the volatile southern Philippines on Tuesday killed 13 people including a Muslim town mayor and several of his colleagues. A military official blamed Muslim rebels but the main guerrilla group in the area denied responsibility. Security forces in the Philippines, Asia's largest Roman Catholic nation with 80 million people, stayed on high alert on Wednesday for attacks by Islamic militants, but terror fears showed few signs of dampening worshippers' enthusiasm.
"I was asking for grace that I'll become a better person and that we'll have peace in the Philippines and in the world," said Consuelo Salas, one of hundreds of worshippers at the open-air Chapel of Santo Nino de Paz in central Manila. Expatriates said previous attacks had made them more aware of personal safety but they felt no specific threat this Christmas.
"I am always conscious and careful when going to malls and areas in the past that have been targets," said one diplomat. "It just feels really quiet here in Manila. Most people left town." In Muslim Pakistan, up to nine people were wounded on Tuesday by a small explosion near a hotel in the city of Rawalpindi, close to the capital, Islamabad, officials said. The cause of the explosion was not immediately known.
Security was tight around churches in Pakistan, which has a small Christian minority and where there have been several attacks on foreigners and Christians this year. "Christmas celebrations have overtaken all fears and the churches are overcrowded," Augustine Anthony, 30, who works for a mobile phone firm, said at a catholic church in Islamabad.
Christians in mostly Muslim Malaysia marked Christmas with quiet and peaceful celebrations. Police kept watch outside the U.S. embassy in the country's capital, Kuala Lumpur, while hundreds of people attended a morning service in the cathedral. "I don't think Christians have anything to fear here," said Andrea Williams, an ethnic Indian church-goer.
In neighbouring Singapore, security fears did not stop expatriates from attending church services. "I think Singapore is extremely safe. The government has taken all appropriate measures and it's business as usual. It's got a little bit more vigilant," said Stephen Pengelly, manager of a security consultancy, who attended church with his wife and daughter.



Posted in General @ 25 December 2002 00:01 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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