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Millions of Muslims Prepare to Celebrate Eid Holiday


The world's Muslims are preparing to celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

In Indonesia, which has more Muslims than any other country, it will be marked by the Eid al Fitr celebration and a week-long public holiday, when millions of people return to their home villages in one of the world's largest annual mass migrations.

The Eid al Fitr holiday, which marks the end of Ramadan, also marks the beginning of a huge movement of people. Over the past few days more than 20 million Indonesians have been leaving the cities and heading back to their home towns and villages to be with their families to celebrate the holiday.

Taslim was waiting for a train last week to take him home to Cirebon in west Java. He says that although he works in Jakarta, the holiday is a time to be with family and friends.

Indonesia's cities have grown rapidly in recent decades, drawing in millions of rural residents. As a result, returning to their roots has a particular significance to many travelers. For some of the poorer people, this may be the only time they go home to see parents, wives, husbands or children.

The movement of so many people puts an enormous strain on Indonesia's crumbing transportation infrastructure. The government has allowed trains to be filled to 60 percent over their maximum capacity, and buses to be overfilled by 10 percent to try carrying all the people who want to go home.

Iskandar Abu Bakar is the transport ministry official in charge of coordinating the effort to get so many people home.

"Yeah, I think because 20 million, 20 million is in two weeks time you have to move the whole population of Malaysia to another place, so it's very big problem for us, how to solve that in only 14 days," said Iskandar Abu Bakar.

The biggest problems are on the roads. Some 80,000 police will work to keep the traffic moving, but there were still huge 18-kilometer traffic jams over the past few days. However, that is an improvement on the now legendary jams of three years ago, when some people in central Jakarta spent more than 24 hours in their cars moving less than a kilometer.

This year has been smoother, and now Indonesia will all but shut down for a week. Those who remain behind in cities such as Jakarta will find them changed places. The pall of pollution that usually hangs over Jakarta lifts, the traffic jams disappear, and the driving pace of this huge city slows to a gentler rhythm, only to pick up again with refreshed force in a week's time.