JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Several thousand people marched in Indonesia’s capital on Wednesday, calling on the government of the world’s most populous Muslim nation to put more pressure on Myanmar to halt the persecution of its Rohingya Muslim minority.
The demonstration was the largest in a series of protests this week by Indonesians against Myanmar’s government and its leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. It was organized by the Islamic Defenders Front, a vigilante group, but also joined by mainstream Muslim groups.
The U.N. says about 125,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh after a military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The government of the predominantly Buddhist country says the crackdown is in response to attacks on police and paramilitary posts.
The Indonesian government risks a backlash from Muslim voters if its response to the crisis is perceived as insufficiently robust. But its room for maneuver is limited by a consensus among Southeast Asian nations of avoiding open criticism of each other.
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Indonesia’s foreign minister met with Suu Kyi and the head of Myanmar’s armed forces on Monday. She said she pressed them to immediately end all violence in Rakhine and promised Indonesia would respond to the crisis with humanitarian aid.
Sobri Lubis, a protest organizer from the Islamic Defenders Front, called for Indonesia to expel Myanmar’s ambassador, the United Nations to impose sanctions on Myanmar and for Sui Kyi’s Nobel Prize to be revoked.
“The world does not care so we are gathering here to show the world that the Rohingya are not alone. Indonesian Muslims will stand and fight to defend them from injustice and brutality,” he said.
Demonstrators were met with a show of force by police, who blocked streets around Myanmar’s already cordoned-off embassy in Jakarta with vehicles and barriers. Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono estimated about 5,000 people had joined the protest.
Elsewhere in Indonesia, schoolchildren in Bandung and civil servants in Ambon held mass prayers while hundreds protested in Medan, Indonesia’s third-largest city.