05/12/2006, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Merapi volcano: Jakarta orders evacuation of 17,000 people

The government believes eruption is imminent but its plan is meeting resistance from residents of the volcano's slopes, who are convinced their magic rituals will stop the lava. But they are also concerned about their crops and cattle.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Indonesian vice-president, Jusuf Kalla, has ordered the evacuation of half of the residents living on the slopes of Merapi volcano. Merapi is an island of Java, which has been spouting lava and dark clouds of smoke for weeks. After visiting local communities and authorities, Kalla said that on the basis of scientific considerations, the government believed a powerful eruption was now imminent.

Despite several calls by the authorities to leave, residents continue to insist their magic rituals will save them and they are looking to their animals to discern signs that would induce them to escape. Jakarta has anyhow admitted it is unable to give exact predictions about the feared eruption.

"Immediate safety measures must be taken, beginning with evacuation of half the residents living within the danger zone within one or two days," said Kalla. "If there are strong signs that Merapi is about to erupt, all people will be evacuated within two days." Jakarta has already allocated around 2.3 million dollars. The danger zone includes two districts of Magelang and Sleman that have a total of 34,000 residents. However, should total evacuation be necessary, reception centres in the area could only host up to 15,000 people.

The government gave an order for the transfer some influential community figures, whose resistance to the evacuation plan would surely feed that of the local community. Among these people was 79-year-old Marijan, held to be able to communicate spiritually with the "guardian" of Merapi.

Further, Kalla, who is also head of the Coordinating Board of the National Disaster Agency, ordered local authorities to ensure residents understand that offering sacrifices and prayers on Mount Merapi would not guarantee them immunity.

However, some believe that the refusal of residents to leave their homes is dictated by concerns about the fate of their crops and cattle, the only source of income for them.

The last powerful eruption of Mount Merapi dates back to 1994, when 60 people were killed, while one of the most destructive eruptions took place in 1930, with a death toll of 1,369 people. Indonesia has more than 100 active volcanos.

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