Draw strength from Ramadan, Suharto tells Muslims

He calls on Indonesians to sacrifice amid crisis.

PRESIDENT Suharto has called on Indonesian Muslims to draw strength from the end of the Ramadan fasting month in facing the country’s economic woes.

“The essence of fasting is that it will give us the force to face challenges and obstacles to the struggle for development, including facing the crisis that is affecting our country,” he said during an annual gathering here at the National Monument square.

“We are still fighting. And fighting means sacrifices and, believe me, sacrifice will never be wasted.”

Thousands of youths were brought in from the city’s main districts for a 1.3-billion-rupiah (S$209,300) extravaganza of fireworks, speeches, music, dances and a mass prayer led by the President on Thursday evening.

Mr Suharto sat through most of the occasion on a special stage, accompanied by Vice-President Try Sutrisno and other members of the Cabinet.

Convoys of trucks with drum-banging youths chanting “God is Great” filled the streets until the early hours of yesterday morning. A heavy military presence was dispatched to keep a close watch throughout the capital, including the National Monument square where more than 40,000 people had gathered.

Thousands of people also packed bus and railway stations on Thursday throughout major cities in the sprawling archipelago as they prepared to return to their villages to celebrate with their families.

Some made their journey home knowing that they could well be without jobs when they returned.

Of the more than three million who left Jakarta to be with their families, some 500,000 are believed to be unemployed as a result of the country’s economic crisis which has seen the value of the rupiah drop by more than 80 per cent against the US dollar.

Prices of staples like cooking oil and rice have skyrocketed, many construction projects have stalled and the banking system is on the verge of collapse.

Many small and medium-sized companies are also verging on bankruptcy and speculation is rife that many firms will not re-open after the holidays.

Officials have urged unemployed workers to remain in the villages to farm produce for themselves and have warned those who still have jobs not to bring others to the city with them in search of work.

The authorities fear that unrest caused by the ailing economy may lead to disturbances ahead of the presidential election in March.

Recent social unrest in the country has been blamed on economic disparities and many fear social agitation could gather momentum as the hardship caused by the rupiah’s devaluation continues.

The Indonesian armed forces, expecting problems in Jakarta and other cities, is believed to be on high alert during this period.

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