Indonesian Islamists target Christian 'forced conversions'

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From the AP. BEKASI, Indonesia — Days after rumors spread across this industrial city that Christians were conducting a mass baptism, hard-line Islamic leaders called for local mosques to create a youth guard to act as moral police and put a quick stop to forced conversions.

They started training early Saturday morning, around 100 young men turning out in a field in Bekasi wearing martial arts uniforms. Leaders stressed that there was no plan to arm them, but they do not shy away from saying they'll act essentially as thugs.

"We're doing this because we want to strike fear in the hearts of Christians who behave in such a way," said Murhali Barda, who heads the local chapter of the Islamic Defenders Front, which pushes for the implementation of Islamic-based laws in Bekasi and other parts of the archipelagic nation. "If they refuse to stop what they're doing, we're ready to fight."

Although this secular country, with more Muslims than any other in the world, has a long history of religious tolerance, a small extremist fringe — of which the front is the vanguard — has become more vocal in recent years as it tries to root out everything it considers blasphemous.

Though big, vice-filled cities, like Jakarta, traditionally have been easy targets, changing demographics have put areas like Bekasi, on the outskirts of the capital, in the hard-liners' cross hairs. The shift reflects a greater problem in Indonesia, which is struggling to stamp out extremist movements without losing the support of moderates, who condemn violence but are sensitive to perceptions that the government is subservient to the West.

Outsiders have steadily poured into the Jakarta suburb in search of work, bringing with them their own religions, traditions and values. That has made conservative Islamic clerics nervous. Some have used sermons to warn their flock to be on the lookout for signs of proselytization.

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