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Indonesians Celebrate End of Ramadan


Indonesians prepare to celebrate the ending of the fasting month of Ramadan on Thursday and Friday - this year amid heightened security across the country in the wake of a recent terrorist attack.

Seventeen million Indonesians are expected to travel from major cities to their rural hometowns this week for the traditional holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan. This year's holiday is anything but normal, however. The National Police have deployed more than 33,000 officers across this sprawling archipelago to ensure the public's safety.

The police have added 20 helicopters, 30 patrol ships, and more than 500 patrol cars to the security effort. The operation is part of the ongoing search for the perpetrators of the October 1st bombings on the holiday island of Bali, which killed 20 people.

Those blasts have been blamed on the regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah, which is also held responsible for the 2002 bombing in Bali that killed 202 people, and for a string of other attacks.

The U.S. embassy in Jakarta issued a warning last week of another possible terrorist attack in Indonesia in the near future.

Extra police have also been deployed to the town of Poso in Central Sulawesi, following the beheading there last week of three Christian schoolgirls by unidentified assailants.

Poso was the scene of bitter fighting between Muslims and Christians in 2001 that left at least one thousand people dead. A government-brokered truce in 2002 ended the conflict, but sporadic religious violence continues.

The annual mass exodus of people leaving major cities to visit their hometowns is an integral part of the Idul Fitri holiday in Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population.

But celebrations of the holiday, known as Eid al-Fitr in much of the Muslim world, may be muted this year. Many people cannot afford to travel to their hometowns due to the government's doubling of fuel prices in September.

Ibu Tati, 47, who lives in Jakarta, says she will not be able to take her family of five to her hometown in Central Java this year to celebrate Idul Fitri. She says the rise in fuel prices has affected her ability to go home, because the cost of a ticket to her hometown has now doubled in price, but she hopes that things will be better next year.

But Ibu Tati says the high prices will not stop her from celebrating. She says she will spend the holidays with family members and friends who also could not afford to go home this year. Ibu Tati says they will spend their time eating big meals and having fun.

On Thursday morning, the start of the two-day celebration, a mass prayer is held which signals the cleansing of the soul.

Following the prayer ceremony, it is tradition to ask for and receive forgiveness from parents, or the eldest living sibling, for any wrongs committed during the year.

The ceremonies are followed by traditional Idul Fitri open houses. President Suslio Bambang Yudhoyono will open the presidential palace to the public for two-and-a-half hours on Thursday afternoon.

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