IMAGE: PROTESTERS
Irwin Fedriansyah  /  AP
Indonesian men shout "God is great" as they display defaced posters of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad during a rally in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sunday.
updated 4/20/2008 12:50:05 PM ET 2008-04-20T16:50:05

Several thousand Islamic hard-liners protested Sunday in Indonesia's capital calling for a ban on a Muslim sect they consider heretical.

A crowd of white-clad woman, children and men chanted, "Disband Ahmadiyah!" at the downtown National Monument. Police estimated about 3,000 people participated in the noisy but peaceful demonstration.

Ahmadiyah was founded at the end of the 19th century in Pakistan, where it is banned, and conservative Muslims claim it was devised by British colonialists to divide Muslims.

The protest came days after a team of prosecutors, religious scholars and government officials said the sect "had deviated from Islamic principles" and recommended Wednesday it be outlawed.

Ahmadiyah, believed to have 200,000 followers in predominantly Muslim Indonesia, has also faced persecution in other Muslim countries. Its followers insist it should be considered part of Islam.

Cleric Cholil Ridwan told the crowd at the National Monument that Ahmadiyah recognizes an Indian prophet, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, in addition to Prophet Muhammad. He urged Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to disband the group.

"We call on the government to seize their assets and ask all followers and members to disband and to return to Islam," he said.

Ahmadiyah spokesman Syamsir Ali said the group will resist attempts to break it up.

The government should not get involved in religious matters and the president should not bend to "the demands of anarchists who merely want to turn this country into a Shariah state," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview, referring to a country governed by Islamic law.

Indonesia is a secular country with a long history of religious tolerance. But in recent years a hard-line fringe has grown louder and the government — which relies on the support of Islamic parties in Parliament — has been accused of caving to it.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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