Sat, Jan 28, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Hamas' stunning victory divides Asia

MIXED REACTION Japan and Australia called on Hamas to renounce violence, while Indonesia called on the West to both recognize and respect Wednesday's result

AP , JAKARTA

Hamas supporters place flags on the Palestinian parliament building in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Thursday. They briefly raised their flags over the building amid clashes with Fatah supporters.

PHOTO: AP

Asian governments called on Hamas to renounce violence and work toward peace yesterday after its victory in the Palestinian elections, while hardline Muslim groups hailed the result as a reward for decades of armed resistance against Israel.

"This is great," said Ismail Yusanto from Hizbut Tahrir, a hardline group that campaigns for an Islamic state in Indonesia. "The Palestinians have spoken and they want someone to continue the struggle against Israel," he said, adding there was no need for the group to disarm.

Hamas -- which has refused to renounce violence and calls for the destruction of Israel -- took nearly two-thirds of the 132 parliamentary seats in Thursday's elections, threatening the Middle East peace process and putting Western powers in a difficult position.

The group is regarded as a terrorist organization by the EU and the US.

Australia and Japan -- both key US allies in Asia -- immediately called on Hamas to give up violence.

"Hamas has been democratically elected and that fact has to be accepted," Australian Prime Minister John Howard said. "But Hamas in return has got to accept that you can't simultaneously behave like a democratically elected government and support terrorism."

New Zealand echoed those comments, as did Japan.

"Japan strongly expects that the Palestinian Authority, following the successful implementation of the elections, will make efforts for peace in accordance with the roadmap, such as to control the extremists," Foreign Minister Taro Aso said in a statement.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, joined other Islamic nations in calling on Western nations and Israel to both accept the result. At the same time, they encouraged the militant group to engage with its longtime enemy.

"For us [the election result] is not difficult, as a democratic country we should respect the democratic decision taken by the Palestinian people," said Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda. "I hope the winner [Hamas] will continue peace talks with Israel."

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said the Hamas victory "has to be accepted on the Israeli side."

Musharraf said Hamas could yet prove to be the power that can bring peace in the region.

"Let us give them a chance," he said in Davos, Switzerland.

Also speaking in Davos, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said "Hamas should recognize that the people of Israel are a nation ... with families and children like all of us.

Islamist parties in Pakistan and Malaysia both cheered the victory.

"We congratulate Hamas for participating in the process of democracy to bring about changes," said Nasharudin Mat Isa, deputy president of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic party. "It's unfair that the world is only asking Hamas to denounce violence but is silent about Israel's atrocities against the Palestinians."

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