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Multi-faith protesters fail to stop religious Bill

Indonesia

A GOVERNMENT education Bill has been passed despite strong opposition from religious and inter - denominational groups as well as leading individuals.

The president will sign the Bill in the next 30 days.

Opposition to the Bill mainly centred on the government's insistence that children be taught religious knowledge by people of the same faith.

In a multi-faith country that has been plagued by inter-communal strife since the fall of President Suharto, some groups insist that this is inappropriate interference in schools with a mixed intake of religions.

Many Christian schools, especially in the big cities, have a large number of Muslim students.

Since March there have been noisy demonstrations outside the National Assembly in Jakarta by teachers and students, including Catholic and Protestant principals, as well as the inter-faith Plural Society Group.

Further opposition has come from ousted ex-president Abdurrahman Wahid, a leading Muslim intellectual, who said that the government was interfering in what is essentially a private matter.

Meanwhile, Professor Mochtar Buchori, a leading Indonesian educationist, has criticised the government for not introducing reforms of the curriculum, saying that they are long overdue.

Indonesia's education system is bureaucratic and relies on an enormous volume of testing - secondary students are tested frequently in as many as 15 subjects.

* More than 400 schools have been torched in the troubled Indonesian province of Aceh in the far north of Sumatra - 200 were burnt down in a single night. At least 90,000 children are affected. This followed a renewal of the conflict between the Indonesian military and Acehnese separatists.

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