Sun, Oct 22, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Haze hampers holiday exodus for Indonesians

AP , JAKARTA

Indonesians carry their belongings as they board a passenger ship at the port of Tanjung Priok in Jakarta on Friday. About 20 million Indonesians are moving from major cities back to their home towns to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

PHOTO: EPA

Smoke from land-clearing fires added to the traveling chaos of millions of Indonesians who poured out of major cities and headed to their home villages yesterday to celebrate the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

With several regional airports closed because of poor visibility from the haze, motorists in buses and cars faced massive jams on roads in several parts of the world's most populous Muslim nation.

"It's very hard, especially for my kids," said Indra Abidin, a 42-year-old restaurant owner, as he waited with his wife and three children at the crowded ticket booths of the Pulogadung bus station in Jakarta.

"It will take us 24 hours to get home this year. But there's no choice, we have to go. It's important to celebrate this holiday with our family," he said.

Transport officials estimate that nearly 15 million people will take part in this year's exodus -- up 6 percent from last year -- the bulk of them leaving this weekend so they can get home in time to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Families weighed down with presents formed long lines at train stations and tens of thousands waited for ferries at seaports in the nation that is spread across more than 17,000 islands.

Abidin said his family usually flies to Jambi, a province 620km northeast of the Indonesian capital, but couldn't this year because of brush fires on Sumatra and Borneo islands.

The blazes, set annually by farmers or agricultural companies looking for a cheap way to clear land for plantations, have cut visibility in some places to 100m, forcing Jambi's airport to close.

Private companies are using free buses to transport their employees home, and thousands of young men, trying to cut down on fuel costs and avoid traffic jams, were traveling together in large groups on the crowded thoroughfares.

Navy warships have taken thousands of poor people to remote islands at half the cost of regular state-run ferries.

"We are overwhelmed because of flight cancellations," said Peter Nababan, a port official on Borneo, adding that many people desperate to get home would be disappointed.

"We don't have any more ferry tickets. They're sold out until next week," he said.

Nearly 90 percent of the 220 million people in Indonesia are Muslims.

During the four weeks of Ramadan, they are not supposed to eat, drink or have sexual intercourse during daylight hours. On the first day of Eid al-Fitr, people flock to early morning prayers. Afterward, families eat specially prepared snacks.

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