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Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
Calls for Indonesian militant's release
Indonesian Muslims hold a rally in Jakarta 9 May 2002.
Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country
Several hundred demonstrators have rallied in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, to protest against the arrest of a Muslim militia commander.

Jafar Umar Thalib, the head of the Laskar Jihad militia group, was arrested on Saturday for allegedly inciting a massacre of Christian villagers in Indonesia's eastern Moluccas islands.

Prepare our bombs and ready our guns

Speech given by Jafar Umar Thalib

He allegedly made a speech in April in the islands' provincial capital Ambon in which he called on his followers to "prepare our bombs and ready our guns" against a mainly Christian separatist group.

Two days later a Muslim mob attacked a Christian village on the outskirts of the city killing at least 12 people, including women and a young baby.

The attack was a serious blow to a peace agreement signed in February by local Christian and Muslim leaders which aimed to end a three-year religious conflict that has claimed more than 5,000 lives.

Powerful visitor

Mr Jafar has not been formally charged but if convicted he could face seven years in prison.

Hamzah Haz shortly after visiting Jafar Umar Thalib, 8 May 2002
Vice-President Hamzah Haz visited Mr Jafar in detention
His supporters gathered on the streets on Thursday to condemn his arrest.

Supporters included Habib Rizieq, the head of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), Islamic Youth Movement leader Mohammad Iqbal and hardline cleric Abu Bakar Baasyir, who is accused by Singapore of having links to international terrorism.

The protest followed a visit to Mr Jafar's police cell on Wednesday by Indonesian Vice-President Hamzah Haz, the leader of Indonesia's largest Muslim political party, the United Development Party.

The visit sparked widespread controversy and accusations of government interference in Mr Jafar's case.

But Mr Haz denied making any kind of deal and said he was visiting Mr Jafar as a "Muslim brother".

The Laskar Jihad has been accused of stirring up violence between Muslims and Christians in the Moluccas since its fighters arrived in the island chain in May 2000 vowing to wage "holy war".

Religious fighting had broken out in 1999, sparked by a minor traffic accident, but intensified in mid-2000.

When the peace deal was signed earlier this year, Christians and Muslims celebrated by hugging each other in the streets.

See also:

09 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Jafar Umar Thalib
04 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
Indonesia arrests top Islamic militant
28 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Who are the Laskar Jihad?
28 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Muslim mob attacks Indonesia Christians
26 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Moluccas brace for more trouble
25 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Moluccan Muslims set fire to church
22 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Moluccan separatist charged with treason
28 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Deadly foes embrace in Ambon
12 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Moluccan peace deal
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