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Countering the influence of 'jihadis'


INDONESIA'S vice president promoted a plan to fingerprint students at Islamic boarding schools Wednesday, saying the country was waging an all-out war against terrorism.
"This is total war," Yusuf Kalla told delegates at a terrorism conference in the capital Jakarta. "This is our war to fight the people who fight us without reason."
Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation, but most people here practice a moderate form of the faith.
Still, al-Qaida-linked militants have carried out five deadly suicide bombings targeting Western interests since 2002. More than 240 people have died, many of them Indonesians.
After an attack on the resort island of Bali two months ago, the government launched its first-ever campaign against hardline interpretations of Islam.
Among other things, it is looking at a handful of pesantren, or Muslim schools, that are committed to 'jihadist' principles.
The government says fingerprinting thousands of Islamic students nationwide could later help identify terrorists, but some lawmakers and religious leaders oppose the plan.
"Why must pesantren be allergic to this?" Kalla asked, noting that as vice president he too has been fingerprinted. "It's good. Let's look at it in a positive way."
Meanwhile, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's ruling coalition narrowly defeated an Islamic fundamentalist party last Wednesday in a key by-election, moving closer to wresting control of Malaysia's only opposition-led state.
Hanafi Mamat of Abdullah's National Front coalition was declared the winner by a 134-vote margin after a recount of last Tuesday's ballot for the Pengkalan Pasir assembly seat in northeastern Kelantan state, which the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, has controlled since 1990.
The result of the by-election -- held after the Islamic party's incumbent died last month -- means PAS now controls 23 of the 45 seats in Kelantan's legislature, down from 24 previously. The National Front now has 22, reducing PAS to a one-seat majority.
The National Front is widely expected to call for the dissolution of Kelantan's legislature and fresh statewide polls.
"It is clear that the people have had a change in their political appetite," said the National Front's election coordinator Muhammad Muhammad Taib.
An overwhelming 83 per cent of 18,411 eligible voters cast ballots in the by-election.
PAS Deputy President Nasharuddin Mat Isa said his party has no plans for state elections, and downplayed concerns that the National Front might persuade some PAS lawmakers to defect.
"Even if it is just one seat, PAS still has the majority," Nasharuddin said. "As far as our assemblymen are concerned, it won't be easy for the National Front to buy them with money."
He also accused Abdullah's coalition of winning the election through dirty tactics, such as illegal voters, adding that PAS plans to file a complaint to the Election Commission.
The ballot was considered a test of support for the Islamic party's policies, including its ambition to rule Malaysia as an Islamic theocracy under which thieves' hands would be amputated.
The National Front, although dominated by Abdullah's Malay Muslim party, includes Chinese and Indian parties and follows secular policies.
It has pledged to build a university and help poor villagers if it comes to power in Kelantan, one of Malaysia's least-developed states.
But PAS officials had hoped to get a boost from former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, a charismatic dissident politician, who visited Kelantan to campaign for PAS.
The Islamic party made inroads in the late 1990s, but has since faltered amid growing support for the government's moderate Islamic policies. Some 60 per cent of Malaysia's 26 million people are Malay Muslims, while non-Muslim Chinese and Indians comprise most of the rest.