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Indonesian women stage rallies for and against polygamy

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Jakarta (dpa) - Hundreds of Indonesian women staged peaceful rallies Friday for and against polygamy on the occasion of the country's Mother's Day.

Several hundred women from various women's organizations opposing polygamy marched on the streets of central Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, chanting a famous Indonesian children's song opposing the practice of taking multiple wives.

"One, I love my mother. Two, I love my father. Three, I love my brothers and sisters. One, two, three, I reject polygamy," they sang.

They also carried banners saying, "Do not use religion to legalize affairs."

Moments earlier on the same spot, another larger group of veiled women from Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, an organization supporting polygamy, carried a banner saying "polygamy is allowed in Islamic teachings."

Indonesia's highest Muslim cleric body backed a government plan to bar ministers, lawmakers and other government officials from polygamy, but warned against outlawing the practice altogether.

The move came after charismatic Muslim preacher Abdullah "Aa Gym" Gymnastiar took a second wife, sparking a renewed debate on polygamy in Indonesia, the country with the world's biggest Muslim population.

Female activists and liberal Islamic clerics expressed their disappointment after Gymnastiar, who had a strong female following and often preached about family values, announced that he had taken a second wife. They said many Muslim men use religion to justify polygamy.

Gymnastiar's move has also been discussed extensively on talk shows and in magazines, with the coverage uniformly negative.

The existing government regulations forbid civil servants from polygamy, but do not cover lawmakers or political appointees such cabinet ministers, governors and district chiefs.

However, the regulation is rarely enforced and experts say polygamy is becoming more common.

Some interpretations of Islam permit a man to have four wives, though some Muslim countries prohibit the practice. Nearly 88 per cent of Indonesia's 220 million people are Muslim, but most follow a moderate version of the faith.

Copyright 2006 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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