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Indonesians mark Easter outdoors after church closures

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

More than 200 Indonesian Christians on Sunday held an Easter service in front of the presidential palace, demanding the government stop church closures in the world's most populous Muslim country.

Amid hooting cars and other traffic noise, men, women and toddlers sang hymns and said prayers in a two-hour service that also served as a protest against the lack of protection for religious minorities.

The worshippers came from three areas on the outskirts of Jakarta where local government officials shut churches, citing community opposition or the lack of proper building permits.

Rights activists have said local governments are using the permit issue as an excuse to kowtow to religious hardliners, with churches and Islamic minorities bearing the brunt of attacks.

They say mosque building permits are rarely challenged.

"We are here to show the president and the world that law enforcement, constitutional supremacy and protection of minority groups are not as sweet as the president had claimed," said Bona Sigalingging, a spokesman for Yasmin Indonesia Christian church.

"We urge President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to stop staying silent and uncaring of the rampant violations of freedom of religion in Indonesia," the congregation said in a statement.

Ninety percent of Indonesia's 240 million people identify themselves as Muslim but the constitution guarantees freedom of religion.

Among those worshipping near the palace Sunday were members of the Taman Sari Batak Christian Protestant church, whose building was pulled down by the Bekasi district administration on March 21.

"The Easter celebration this year, including Good Friday, touched our hearts more than before because now our church is in ruins," Panahatan Siregar of the Taman Sari church told AFP.

Rights group Setara Institute of Peace and Democracy says cases of intolerance are on the rise, with 543 reported in 2011 compared to 491 in 2009. More than 300 incidents were recorded in the first half of 2012.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130331/indonesians-mark-easter-outdoors-after-church-closures