Indonesian president urges crackdown on violent groups

Jakarta, Indonesia - Indonesia's president Wednesday urged authorities to take stronger action against violent groups, amid a spate of recent attacks on religious minorities, state media reported.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Indonesia was committed to freedom of speech, but warned that violence would not be tolerated, Antara news agency reported.

"Law enforcers must take legal action against groups or registered organizations that continue to engage in violence, if necessary disbanding them," Yudhoyono was quoted as saying in a speech marking National Press Day in the eastern Indonesian city of Kupang.

Yudhoyono warned that unless firm action was taken, Indonesia risks reigniting conflicts between Muslims and Christians that killed thousands in the country's east between 1998 and 2003.

Three people were killed and several injured Sunday when hundreds of hardline Muslims stormed a house occupied by members of the Ahmadiyya sect in the western Java district of Pandeglang.

The attack was the latest in a series of attacks against members of the sect that has been branded heretical by many Muslims because it teaches that its founder, Mirza Gulam Ahmad, was the final Islamic prophet instead of Mohammed.

The Ahmadiyya movement, founded in 1889 in India, has an estimated 200,000 followers in Indonesia, which has more Muslims than any other country.

On Tuesday, hundreds of Muslim protestors demanding harsher punishment for a man accused of blasphemy against Islam set fire to two Christian churches and several vehicles in the Central Java province.

The demonstration broke out when prosecutors in the trial of Antonius Richmond Bawengan requested a five-year prison sentence on charges of distributing printed material insulting to Islam.

Local and international human rights activists have condemned the government for failing to stop attacks on religious minorities or take strong action against the perpetrators.

Indonesia boasts a long tradition of religious tolerance, but recent years have seen the emergence of small, but vocal fundamentalist groups seeking to impose their strict interpretations of Islam.

One such group is the Islamic Defenders' Front, which has been blamed for past attacks on bars, liberal activists and a Christian congregation.

There have been calls by moderate Muslims for authorities to disband the group, which some allege have ties to security forces.