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Wednesday, January 20, 1999 Published at 16:07 GMT


World: Asia-Pacific

Riots end Ramadan in Indonesia

Rioting broke out during festivities marking the end of Ramadan

At least nine people are reported to have been killed in clashes between Muslims and Christians in the eastern Indonesian town of Ambon.


The BBC's Jonathan Head in Jakarta: "An area known for its religious tolerance"
The official Antara news agency said more than 100 people have been injured and dozens of houses burnt in the unrest that broke out during festivities marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

The BBC Jakarta Correspondent, Jonathan Head says the security forces have been heard opening fire to try to keep apart rival gangs carrying machetes, spears and crow bars.

Hospital sources report that some of the victims are suffering from gunshot wounds.


[ image:  ]
Latest reports say that calm has been restored in Ambon - situated about 2,300 km (1,437 miles) north-east of the capital Jakarta in the Moluccan islands - but the atmosphere remains tense.

A local police official said on Indonesian radio that 400 policemen, as well as army and navy personnel, had been deployed to bring the situation under control.

A local military commander said he had contacted community and religious leaders to stop the riots from spreading.


[ image: Rioters were armed with machetes, spears and crow bars]
Rioters were armed with machetes, spears and crow bars
The local airport was reported to have been shut down except for military flights.

The violence started on Tuesday, the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr celebration, when Christians and Muslims clashed in two villages. The violence later spread to the main city and sporadic fighting continued on Wednesday.

The two-day holiday, marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, is supposed to be a time of peace and reconciliation.

Wave of religious violence

Multi-ethnic Indonesia has been hit by a wave of religious and ethic rioting, as the country grapples with its worst economic and political crisis in 30 years.


[ image: Indonesia: World's most populous Muslim country]
Indonesia: World's most populous Muslim country
This is the third serious incident of communal unrest to mar this year's Ramadan: as many as 14 people have already been killed elsewhere in the country in fighting between different communities.

Our correspondent says that what makes these clashes especially alarming is that they involved Christians and Muslims in an area once known for its religious tolerance.

The local population is evenly divided between Christians and Muslims. Relations between the two communities became tense after an attack on Ambonese Christians by Muslims in the capital, Jakarta, last November, which left 13 people dead.

The Indonesian authorities are struggling to contain outbreaks of crime and communal violence.

Our correspondent says the security forces are too demoralised and too few in number to cope. President BJ Habibie's pleas for restraint seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

About 90% of Indonesia's 202 million people are Muslim, making it the world's most populous Islamic country.





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