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Moderate Muslims Rally for Christians in Indonesia Over Church Closings
Marianne Kearney in Jakarta

INDONESIA ‘S largest Muslim group has threatened to bring out thousands of militia members to protect Christians from Islamic hardliners who have forced the closure of more than a dozen churches.
Christian leaders say 15 churches have been shut by activists from two allied groups, the Anti Apostasy Movement (AGAP) and the Islamic Defenders.

The man coming to their aid is Hasyim Muzadi, the head of Nadlatul Ulama.

He says he is shocked by the lack of police protection for Christians and has vowed to bring out 100,000 members of his feared Banser militia to guard churches.

“There is no teaching in Islam that permits Muslims to disturb other religious groups,” Mr Muzadi told local daily Koran Tempo.

“We ask police to take strong action against those people using religion as an excuse for violence,” he added.

Like other major Muslims groups, the NU has a civilian militia used to provide security at religious events.

Banser members are renowned for martial arts skills and fanatical devotion to their leaders.

Wienitas Sairen, deputy secretary general of the Indonesian Communion of Churches, accuses local police of standing by as white-robed members of the hardline alliance have wielded bamboo sticks and threatened Christians during their services.

Radical Muslim groups have defended the closures, accusing the Christians of operating without a permit.

But Mr Sairen said the church groups had obtained permits from the Religious Affairs

Ministry in Jakarta to hold services in homes.

Problems had arisen because they were unable to obtain permission from local residents, most of whom are Muslim.