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    Up to 800,000 people gathered in Indonesia's second-largest city of Surabaya on Sunday to pray for peace in the biggest anti-Iraq war event yet in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

    Officials with the moderate Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia's leading Islamic organisation and organiser of the event, estimated 700,000 to 800,000 had poured into a military parade ground in Surabaya by midday local time.

    Indonesian politicians and religious leaders fear a US attack on Iraq could spark a strong backlash in the strongly Muslim county, where moderates as well as militants have been highly critical of US policy in the Middle East.

    "Radicalism will get its momentum, because they could say America has conducted violence... We won't be listened to anymore," Hasyim Muzadi, chief of the 40-million strong NU told Reuters ahead of Sunday's rally.

    Thousands of Osamas

    Muhammad Rizieq, chief of Indonesia's militant Islamic Defenders' Front, underscored that warning.

    "If the war starts tomorrow, the next day we will have thousands of new Osama bin Ladens who will be ready to destroy US facilities anywhere on earth," he told Reuters.

    "We are campaigning for the public to besiege and take over the US embassy if war breaks out."

    Indonesian officials have said such threats should not be taken as a measure of what would happen but have acknowledged there will be massive protests in the event of war.

    Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, who attended the Surabaya prayer session, said he hoped it would set a peaceful example for other anti-war actions as well as help change US President George W Bush's policies.

    "Hopefully he can open his ears and listen and open his heart too," Mr Wirajuda said.

    Peace prayer

    Many of the men, wearing white or traditional Batik shirts, colourful sarongs and Muslim caps, and women with long colourful dresses and veils, walked to the site. Thousands of buses, trucks and vans brought others from elsewhere in East Java province.

    "I left at one in the morning with my mosque congregation from Magetan and reached here around four," said 35-year old Munawir, squatting behind a loudspeaker near the main stage.

    Munawir insisted he had no ill feeling toward the United States but said: "I hope they can wipe their desire for war from their hearts".

    Organisers discouraged participants from bringing banners and posters. Two official NU banners, both in English read: "NU rejects US aggression to Iraq" and "The US unilateral aggression to Iraq breaks the world order".

    A third banner in Indonesian suggested the NU was trying to maintain its moderate voice.

    "The courteous Islam is not the angry Islam," it said. A smaller anti-war prayer rally was expected in Indonesia's capital and largest city, Jakarta.

    No moral case

    In neighbouring Malaysia, where Islam is the official religion, the pro-government New Straits Times said in an editorial on Sunday, there was "no moral case for war against Iraq" because it was not about weapons of mass destruction, terrorism or liberating an oppressed people.

    "It is about the imposition of a Pax Americana on the Middle East. All the justifications -- democracy, human rights and regional stability -- echo the double-talk used by 19th century European imperialists, who conquered and plundered Africa and Asia to bring godliness and civilisation to the heathens."

    About 85 per cent of Indonesia's 210 million people are Muslim. The vast majority are moderate and support Government moves against Islamic militants suspected of bombing the nation's tourist island of Bali last October, killing 202 people.
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