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US-led War in Iraq a 'Exceptional Injustice' Says Indonesian President - 2004-02-23

The president of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has attacked the coalition campaign in Iraq. The comments are a reflection of a deep distrust of U.S. motives in the Iraq campaign.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri opened a conference of Islamic scholars Monday, by saying the U.S. led war in Iraq was symptomatic of "exceptional injustice" by big Western nations against Muslim nations. "The act of violence undertaken unilaterally against the Republic of Iraq by certain countries, which are now finding it difficult to prove the existence of weapons of mass destruction there, which is the sole justification to launch the biggest military attack at the beginning of the 21st century, is an evident picture of this injustice," she says.

She went on to criticize the recent decision by France to ban conspicuous religious symbols, including the headscarves worn by Muslim women, in schools. She described it as discrimination, and a blow to human rights.

The Jakarta conference is designed to promote dialogue among different faiths and counter the impression given by some militants that Islam is a violent religion.

The overwhelming majority of Indonesia's 190 million Muslims follow a moderate form of Islam. They have been deeply shocked by the acts of terrorism carried out in the name of Islam, including the murderous bombings on the island of Bali in 2002 and the explosion outside a U.S.-run hotel in Jakarta last August.

Indonesia has supported U.S. efforts to fight terrorism, but President Megawati and her government opposed the invasion of Iraq last year.

Despite reassurances from Washington that the war on terror is not a war on Islam, an increasing number of Indonesians are coming to believe that their faith and its adherents are under pressure. President Megawati's comments reflect this view.

President Bush visited Indonesia briefly last year, but it seems that his attempts to woo opinion in the world's largest Muslim state have had little lasting effect.