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Jakarta support of U.S. faces rising opposition

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Opposition to potential U.S. strikes against suspected terrorists in Afghanistan is growing in Indonesia, and President Megawati Sukarnoputri could face a test of resolve after pledging support for Washington's fight against terrorism.

Political analysts said Wednesday that Megawati would come under attack by Muslim groups when she returns this weekend from the United States, where she met with President Bush.

Megawati received promises of desperately needed economic aid in return for her support of Bush's plans to wage a war against terrorism. But back home in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, support of the U.S. fight may not be as strong.

Some fringe Islamic groups vowed to send people to Afghanistan to fight on the side of the Taliban, although only a handful of people had signed up. They have also threatened to attack Americans in Indonesia, and one group, the Islamic Youth Movement, threatened to kill the U.S. ambassador to Jakarta if American forces take action.

On Wednesday, hundreds of demonstrators rallied in the cities of Jakarta, Bandung, Banjarmasin and Yogyakarta against possible U.S. attacks. Last weekend, militants went to hotels in the city of Solo, in Central Java province, searching for U.S. citizens.

Although Indonesia has a secular government, about 90 percent of the nation's 210 million people are Muslim, and extremism is on the rise. In the past three years, about 9,000 people have been killed in the eastern Maluku, or Moluccan, Islands in a religious war against Christians.

Megawati — who came to power two months ago — faces a tricky balancing act if she is to retain popular support at home and still maintain a close relationship with Washington. Indonesia relies on financial support from the West to support its crisis-ridden economy, and the United States is its biggest trading partner.

In New York on Tuesday, Megawati offered to cooperate with the United States in the fight against terrorism, describing the attack on the World Trade Center as "the worst atrocity ever inflicted in the history of civilization."

Megawati's support of the United States contrasts sharply to that of her father, Sukarno, who was Indonesia's founding president.

A fierce nationalist, he railed against the United States and accused it of meddling in Indonesia's affairs. After flirting with a growing communist movement, he was ousted in 1966 in a military takeover that some historians say was covertly supported by Washington.