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Sunday, February 15, 1998 Published at 18:10 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Appeal for halt to racist attacks in Indonesia
image: [ Shops owned by non-Chinese are thought to face less risk of attack ]
Shops owned by non-Chinese are thought to face less risk of attack

A senior Indonesian Muslim leader is appealing for an end to attacks on ethnic Chinese as troops remain on high alert after two days of rioting over food prices.

At least four people were killed by troops in the latest violence in several towns in West Java and the island of Lombok. More than 150 people have been arrested.

The commercial centre of the worst affected town, Pamanukan, is in ruins. Four churches were also badly damaged.

Some ethnic Chinese residents fled after dozens of buildings, most of them Chinese-owned shops, were smashed and burned by mainly Muslim demonstrators. Some sheltered at the town's police station after fleeing their homes.

The authorities have responded to the violence by banning all public gatherings.

[ image: Two days of rioting has left significant damage]
Two days of rioting has left significant damage
But Dr Amien Rais, the Chairman of the Muhammadiya group, which represents nearly 30 million Indonesian Muslims, and an outspoken critic of President Suharto's government defied the order.

In a speech to 10,000 supporters in the capital Jakarta he appealed for an end to the attacks on the Chinese.

"I do not blame my people who run amok because they're hungry. Of course I disagree, and I even condemn, if the anger, if the frustration was directed to the Chinese," he said.

He added that the Chinese "are also our brothers and sisters and they have become one integrated part and parcel of this Indonesian nation."

He went on to say that Indonesians should "direct their anger, their protesting, to the government."

Dr Rais said the country was suffering from a social and moral disease.

He said any candidate for president who was incapable of ending corruption should step aside, a remark seen as a clear reference to President Suharto.

The latest violence is the most serious outbreak of rioting to hit Indonesia since the currency crisis began three months ago. Many ordinary Indonesians are only now feeling the full effects of the crisis.

[ image: Troops are patrolling the streets]
Troops are patrolling the streets
Food prices have doubled or even tripled and, as businesses and construction projects close down, thousands of jobs have been lost.

The minority Chinese, who control much of the commercial life in small towns, make an easy target. They have been accused of hoarding food. Many shops have been spread with anti-Chinese graffiti.

The BBC's Jakarta correspondent says similar incidents are occurring with increasing regularity across Indonesia and the security forces seem powerless to prevent the violence from breaking out.

The police have forbidden mass gatherings for the three weeks surrounding next month's presidential election. However, the most recent unrest started among crowds coming out of Friday prayers at the mosques, gatherings the authorities cannot ban.

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