Hotels evacuated guests yesterday and tourists were advised against traveling to Lombok Island amid violence between Christians and Muslims that has stoked fears of spreading religious unrest in Indonesia.
In Lombok's capital of Mataram, police fired warning shots at Muslim mobs to prevent them from raiding a police station where about 500 Christians -- many of them Indonesian Chinese -- had taken refuge.
The violence comes a day after Muslims burned down a dozen Protestant and Roman Catholic churches and places of worship in the city, some 1,080km east of Jakarta.
On Monday, several thousand Muslims gathered here to protest the continuing sectarian clashes in the Malukus, another region of Indonesia where about 2,000 people have died in Muslim-Christian clashes over the past year. The rally turned violent and demonstrators began torching churches and homes.
The yearlong bloodshed in the Malukus has motivated a string of recent protests by Muslims throughout Indonesia. Many demonstrators have called for a "jihad" or holy war to be waged against the country's Christian minority.
Lombok is located about 40km west of Bali, Indonesia's main tourist destination. The unrest is likely to further damage Indonesia's once-lucrative tourism industry, which only last year began recovering from the effects of the Asian financial crisis.
Gangs roamed the streets of Mataram yesterday in search of Christian homes. A band of about 100 people broke into a house in the center of the city. They ransacked the house and smashed and overturned a car they had pushed out of the garage.
"This is the home of a wealthy Chinese Christian family," shouted one of the attackers who identified himself only as Jusuf. "We are all poor Muslim people, we are the real people of Lombok."
The crowd scattered when a squad of riot police arrived and arrested half-a-dozen looters.
"We've gone to full alert as the situation is getting really tense," police Sergeant Intam said.
Captain Agu Sutisna said one person died in hospital after being hit by a rubber bullet during Monday's violence. A total of 52 people have been arrested, he said.
The Australian Embassy in Jakarta advised its citizens not to travel to the island and cautioned foreign tourists on Lombok to remain in their hotels.
The Holiday Inn in Senggigin on Lombok has started evacuating all its guests, said Pandud Djodjoadi, a marketing officer at the hotel.
"We're getting everyone out now," he said, adding that the guests were being evacuated by ferry to Bali.
Violence was also continuing yesterday in the nearby town of Ampenan, close to the island's main airport, where several houses had been set ablaze.
Members of Lombok's sizable Hindu minority said they were also worried they might be targeted by rampaging gangs. Groups of Hindus, armed with swords, spears and bamboo sticks, set up roadblocks and stood guard around their neighborhoods.
"We are here only to protect our homes, we want peace," said Made Jaya, who guarded one of the makeshift barriers.
In the past two weeks, several of Indonesia's most prominent Muslim leaders, including the influential Indonesian Ulamas Association, have voiced their support for a religious war.
Earlier this month, even the country's parliamentary speaker, Amien Rais, took part in a huge Muslim rally in Jakarta which endorsed calls for armed action against the Christian minority.
This has been vehemently rejected by President Abdurrahman Wahid, who has threatened harsh action against radicals trying to ignite a wider sectarian conflict.
In Jakarta, political analysts have warned that there is a serious threat the sectarian violence could now snowball and spread to other regions in Indonesia.
"The president needs to give a very stern warning to Muslim groups to stop this violence -- otherwise it could get out of control," said Ong Hok Ham, a lecturer at the University of Indonesia.
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