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The BBC's Clive Myrie
"There is little doubt a vote would be in favour of a break with Jakarta"
 real 56k

Saturday, 11 November, 2000, 10:32 GMT
Aceh crowds demand independence
A parallel rally was held by Acehnese in Jakarta
A parallel rally was held by Acehnese in Jakarta on Friday
Thousands of people have rallied for a second day in the capital of the Indonesian province of Aceh to demand a referendum on independence.

It is time that Aceh got its independence - our suffering is almost unbearable

Rally speaker Nurmasitah Ali
The protesters drove in a noisy convoy through Banda Aceh on Saturday as a military helicopter hovered overhead and armoured vehicles stood by.

Human rights groups said several hundred thousand more protesters had been barred by security forces, who set up checkpoints to prevent them entering the city.

At least 25 people died in Aceh in the run-up to the rally, despite a call from Jakarta for troops to refrain from force.

On Friday, Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, in a rare criticism of the security forces, blamed the army and police for the escalating violence in Aceh.

Calls for freedom

The Tempo news service quoted Mr Wahid as saying: "I want to ask - 'Since when are guns used in negotiations?'

Acehnese by the city's main mosque
Acehnese arrive in trucks by the city's main mosque
"If you are using guns, then please retire," he said, in comments made after attending prayers in Madura, an island off the northern coast of East Java.

"Acehnese people are my religious brothers," he added.

The Banda Aceh demonstrators are demanding a United Nations referendum on independence for the territory, where separatist rebels have been battling government forces for decades.

A vast rally a year ago marked the high point so far of the independence movement.

On Friday, 10,000 people assembled at the Baiturrahman grand mosque - the focal point of the two-day rally - after proceeding through police security checks.

The crowds roared "freedom" in response to fiery speeches.

One was given by a woman, Nurmasitah Ali, whose husband was killed by Indonesian troops.

"It is time that Aceh got its independence. Our suffering is almost unbearable," she told the crowd.

But a correspondent at the scene says the mood overall was tense and low-key, with no placards or separatist flags and hardly any banners.

Peace talks

Mr Wahid has urged the army to allow the rally to go ahead peacefully, saying violence could destroy the truce between the government and the separatist "Free Aceh" movement called in June.

Aceh independence rally
Hundreds of thousands attended last year's rally
The two sides are due to hold follow-up talks in Geneva next week to discuss a political solution for the province.

The Indonesian president has ruled out independence for Aceh, on the grounds that it could prompt the disintegration of Indonesia, but has offered to grant it wide-ranging autonomy.

However, alleged brutality by the security forces over decades, and the perceived exploitation by Jakarta of Aceh's oil and gas reserves, has fed separatist sentiment.

The BBC Jakarta correspondent Richard Galpin says it is ironic that the rally, which has been called a popular assembly for peace, has sparked the worst outbreak of violence in Aceh in recent months.

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See also:

10 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Violence feared at Aceh rally
25 Nov 99 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Indonesia needs Aceh
13 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Indonesia's fragile archipelago
05 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Aceh rebels fingered over Jakarta blasts
25 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Aceh truce extended
20 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Wahid marks tricky first year
08 Nov 99 | Asia-Pacific
Acehnese demand independence
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