Large anti-American protests staged in Indonesian capital; State Department warns Americans to stay away

Friday, September 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ More than 2,000 people marched in the capital Friday in the largest anti-Western protest in years, rallying against a potential U.S.-led attack on Afghanistan, amid fears for Americans' safety in Indonesia.

Although the demonstration by Muslim students was peaceful, participants later marched past the residence of U.S. ambassador Robert Gelbard. A group of militants chanted: ``Kill Gelbard, destroy America.''

The rising anti-U.S. sentiment has prompted the State Department to warn U.S. citizens to stay away from Indonesia, even though Indonesia's government supports Washington's campaign against terrorism.

The State Department also has authorized all nonessential personnel at the embassy in Jakarta to return to the United States with their families. Dozens are expected to leave by the weekend.

Worried diplomats from more than a dozen foreign missions on Friday met police commanders who offered their headquarters as ``a safe house'' if foreigners were targeted by extremists in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Following criticism by Gelbard that they had failed to act against militants, the police also announced a contingency plan to evacuate westerners to the airport in a fleet of armored cars, said Jakarta police spokesman Lt. Col. Anton Bachrul Alam.

``The police have a clear responsibility to act, but they have chosen not to,'' Gelbard said. He added that national police commander Gen. Bimantoro had made it clear in an earlier meeting that the security forces ``would not move against Islamic groups.''

U.S.-owned businesses have said they are closely monitoring the security situation in Indonesia and may evacuate foreign nationals if it deteriorates.

Demonstrators climbed a monument in the city's main traffic circle and unfurled a banner saying: ``The real terrorists are Israel and U.S.A.'' Several protesters beat the gates of the nearby British embassy with sticks.

The United States has warned that it may launch a military assault on Afghanistan if that country's hard-line Islamic leaders, the Taliban, do not hand over bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The protests have continued despite vocal support by Indonesia's President Megawati Sukarnoputri for President Bush's campaign against terrorism. Megawati publicly backed Washington's stand during a visit to the United States this week.

Meanwhile, a newspaper reported Indonesia's central bank has refused to comply with U.S. demands to freeze assets linked to Osama bin Laden.

The Jakarta Post quoted Bank Indonesia's international director, Veronica Sulistyo, as saying the bank must have evidence that bin Laden was responsible for the attacks.

The U.S. government has threatened to take action against nations that fail to freeze assets of suspected terrorists. Indonesia, with few financial sector controls to curb endemic corruption, has long been regarded as a haven for money laundering.