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Vandals destroy new Indonesian church

by Tola Mbakwe

According to religious freedom charity International Christian Concern (ICC), six vandals attacked St Zechariah Church in Palembang, Indonesia.

The perpetrators blew a large hole in the wall next to the church entrance, smashed a statue, and set fire to stacked chairs.

Residents around the church, who woke up to the commotion just after midnight on 8th March, rushed to extinguish the fire as the suspects fled on motorcycles.

The incident came as a shock to locals as such incidents haven't happened before in the province of South Sumatra.

Msgr. Aloysius Sudarso, Archbishop of Palembang said he was puzzled by the attack but encouraged local Christians not to be disturbed by it.

He said in a report by AsiaNews: "This act is very strange. Nothing like this has ever happened in past decades. Why would people want to destroy this chapel?"

Police also held a meeting with religious figures and local community groups to discuss the incident and caution against rumours circulating on social media.

South Sumatra Police Chief Inspector General of Police Zulkarnain Adinegara said that he was devastated by the incident.

He told Tribun-Medan News: "I feel hit by it. Suddenly there are people who destroy the house of worship. Society entrusts us to investigate."

It's been reported local political analysts consider this type of incident "political warming," targeting Christians and members of the largest and most moderate Muslim groups in the country, ahead of the upcoming elections in June.

This is the second time this year that an attack was carried out against a Catholic church in Indonesia.

According to ICC, last month a radicalised university student attacked a priest and churchgoers with a samurai sword at St. Lidwina Church in Yogyakarta, Java, injuring four people.

Gina Goh, ICC's regional manager, said, "The attack on St. Zechariah Church is worrying, given that Indonesia has always prided itself on being a pluralistic and tolerant country.

"This shows that radicalism is on the rise in the predominantly Muslim Indonesia. We condemn the vandalism and call for prompt investigation to bring those responsible for the attack to justice."

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