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Executions spark violence in Indonesia

Christians torch cars, loot shops over 3 militants

PALU, Indonesia -- Christians angered by yesterday's executions of three Roman Catholic militants in the world's most populous Muslim country torched cars and government buildings, looted shops, and attacked a jail, freeing hundreds of inmates.

The executions of the men, who faced a firing squad at 1:45 a.m. in Palu for a massacre at an Islamic school six years ago, appeared to smooth the way for the executions of three Muslims convicted in the 2002 Bali bombings. Some analysts said the government would be unwilling to spark public anger by executing the Muslims first.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla appealed for calm after yesterday's sectarian violence, which left at least five people injured. He said the executions had nothing to do with religion in this largely secular nation, which has about 190 million Muslims.

``It's a matter of the law. These killings were carried out according to our legal process," he told reporters in the capital, Jakarta.

As tensions rose in Indonesia, the Vatican said yesterday that Pope Benedict XVI has invited Muslim envoys to meet him at his summer residence Monday for a dialogue after the protests ignited by his remarks on Islam and violence. Turkey and Iran immediately said their representatives would attend.

Thousands of Muslim worshipers staged marches against Benedict in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and Khartoum, Sudan, yesterday. The Palestinian protesters waved green Hamas banners and denounced the pontiff as a ``coward" and an ``agent of the Americans."

In the West Bank city of Nablus, Palestinian police guarding a Roman Catholic church exchanged fire for 20 minutes with would-be assailants and chased them away, residents said. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

The three Catholic militants -- Fabianus Tibo, 60; Marinus Riwu, 48; and Dominggus da Silva, 42 -- were convicted of leading a Christian militia that launched attacks in May 2000. Muslim groups put the combined death toll from the attacks at 191.

The attacks included a machete and gun assault on an Islamic school that left at least 70 people dead. That attack was one of the worst incidents of sectarian violence that swept Sulawesi province from 1998 to 2002.

A few Muslims were ever punished for their part in the unrest, and none were sentenced to more than 15 years behind bars.

Although the government insisted that Tibo and his associates were given a fair trial, with 28 witnesses providing testimony, legal analysts and human rights workers note that Indonesia's judiciary is corrupt and susceptible to outside influence.

Crowds of Muslim hard-liners gathered at the court during the hearings, they noted, probably intimidating judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and witnesses.

``The men's lawyers received death threats, including a bomb planted at one lawyer's house, and demonstrators armed with stones outside the courthouse demanded that the three be sentenced to death," said Isabelle Cartron of London-based Amnesty International.

Yesterday's violence took place on Sulawesi and the nearby islands of Flores and Timor, which are dominated by Christians. All three islands are east of Indonesia's main islands -- Sumatra and Java -- and south of the Philippines. Although Christians make up fewer than 10 percent of the country's population, they are roughly half the population in the country's east.

Palu, the capital of Sulawesi province, was largely calm yesterday, with thousands of police standing on street corners and guarding markets and houses of worship. The officers watched as some 1,000 mourners packed the St. Maria's Church to take part in a requiem.

But violence raged in the Sulawesi villages of Tentena and Lage, where hundreds of Christians went on a rampage, torching cars and police posts after learning of the executions.

On the island of Flores, the condemned men's birthplace in East Nusatenggara province, machete-wielding youths terrorized residents and tore apart the local parliament, breaking windows and smashing in doors and overturning benches. Thousands also rallied to protest the executions.

On West Timor, more than 200 inmates escaped after mobs assaulted a jail in Atambua .

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