With hundreds of protesters burning U.S. flags outside the gates of the U.S. Embassy and with extremist groups threatening to kill Americans, the State Department said Thursday that most of the embassy staff could leave the country if they chose.
Despite the Indonesian government's stated support for the United States following the terror attacks in New York and Washington this month, extremist Islamic groups have staged demonstrations in several cities and have vowed to take revenge if the United States attacks a Muslim nation.
The groups represent a small minority in this mostly Muslim country of 210 million people, where the practice of Islam is largely tolerant and moderate. But they have made their presence felt in recent years with bombings, vandalism and threats.
Last week in Washington, President Megawati Sukarnoputri affirmed in a meeting with President Bush that Indonesia joins America in opposing terrorist attacks, though she stopped short of pledging support for retaliation. "We share this moment of grief with you," she said.
Almost daily there are small demonstrations outside the fortified U.S. Embassy, set far back from the street behind a high iron fence near government buildings in central Jakarta.
With emotions running high here, some leading religious and political figures have joined the vilification of the United States. Vice President Hamzah Haz suggested last week that the terror attacks could help America "cleanse its sins." The former president, Abdurrahman Wahid, said America itself is a "terrorist nation."
With the verbal attacks swirling, U.S. Ambassador Robert Gelbard criticized Indonesia's security forces on Thursday for not moving against extremists who have openly threatened to attack the embassy and kill Americans, including himself.
"They have not been prepared to act," he said, "to warn or to arrest people who break the law when there are threats against the lives of Americans."
On Wednesday, the State Department warned Americans to stay away from Indonesia, saying the attacks in the United States had raised security concerns here significantly.
In an earlier statement, it said: "Extremist elements may be planning to target United States interests in Indonesia."
The embassy statement on Thursday said, "The Department of State has authorized the voluntary departure of all United States government personnel in non-emergency positions and family members in Indonesia." Some diplomats were reported to be preparing to leave.
Extra police have been posted outside the embassy, which can only be entered through a series of secure locked chambers.
The rally at the embassy on Thursday was the biggest so far, with raised fists and chants of "Go to hell, America" and "The United States government supports terrorism." There were cheers when an effigy of Bush was set on fire.
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