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  • Thomas Russell

Anti-American protests don't slow business

SURABAYA, Indonesia - Recent anti-American protests by Muslim groups here and in other areas on the island of Java haven't alarmed U.S. furniture importers or their manufacturing partners on the island.
     The protests, like others in Muslim countries around the globe, are in response to an anti-Muslim movie produced in the U.S. Indonesia is believed to have the world's largest Muslim population.
     Protests at the embassy in Jakarta turned violent the week of Sept. 17, with people reportedly throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, injuring police officers.
     In response, the U.S. temporarily closed its embassy in Jakarta and consulate offices in Surabaya, Medan and Bali.
     For the most part, however, observers say the protests have been much more peaceful than demonstrations in places like Pakistan, where 17 deaths were reported.
     Susilo Alexander Hadinoto, a director at Jakarta area-based case goods producer Ligna Furniture, said the demonstrations he has seen on TV appear smaller than others around the world.
     "There are a couple of demonstrations against the U.S around the country, but I think it is still in a smaller scale compared with the Middle East," he said. "We have some Muslim radicals here, but those people are not the ones demonstrating on the street. In general, I must say it is still very safe here on the ground like any other day."
     Gene Clark, president of Ligna's U.S. marketing arm Ligna USA, said that while he doesn't plan to return to Indonesia until later this year, he trusts his highly educated plant management to alert him of safety issues. He said he has heard no concerns from them.
     "It is always that one or two percent that get attention and I think the same applies in Indonesia," said Clark. "Most Muslims over there are not radical Muslims, but in any group, you can incite a few of them to riot. That is the issue we have to deal with now."
     Kent Grotkjaer, operations manager of Furniture Brands Internationals' plant in Semarang, said there was a small demonstration in the middle of town after a recent Friday prayer. However, he said there was no cause for alarm.
     "I happened to drive just past it, all was peaceful and there was a lot of police around to make sure nothing would get out of hand," he said. "So altogether I do not feel we have any safety issues here in the area."
     Executives at Hooker Furniture also said they have not heard of any issues that would prevent them from having employees on the ground. "We have not changed our normal procedures," said Paul Toms, chairman and CEO of Hooker, which sources further east in Surabaya.


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