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Indonesian Protesters Call for Islamic Law - 2002-08-03

Roughly 2,000 protesters marched on Indonesia's parliament Saturday, calling for the implementation of Islamic law in the country. The peaceful rally took place as Indonesia's legislature began its annual session.

Most of the demonstrators, from the "Liberation Party of Indonesia," were women. The group wants Indonesia's highest legislature, the People's Consultative Assembly, to implement the religious law of Islam, known as Sharia. The assembly is now meeting, and is considering reforming the country's 1945 Constitution. One demonstrator said the group was at the parliament building because the Constitution is not the best system for Indonesia. Another woman said "we want Islam for the entire world, not just in Indonesia." Indonesia's Constitution established a secular state. However, the government has allowed Aceh province to implement some aspects of Sharia law. Aceh is more devoutly Muslim than other parts of the country. There are also a handful of Islamic parties, which, at times, form a coalition in parliament. Some legislators say implementing Islamic law would help Indonesia recover from its many problems, including endemic corruption and separatist fighting.

With more than 210 million people, Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population. But it is also home to Christians and people from other faiths. Most Indonesians follow a less strict form of Islam than that found in South Asia and the Middle East. Moderate Islamic leaders and many politicians have indicated they do not expect the country to adopt Sharia law any time soon.

The protest comes one day after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Indonesia, which he praised for its cultural diversity.