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Asian Christians snub terror risk and fill churches

Australians suffering a threat of wildfires received a longed-for gift when it rained

Asian Christians   snub terror risk and fill churches

Indonesia's Christians defied terror warnings and flocked to church in the mostly Muslim country on Christmas Day, while Australians threatened by wildfires received a longed-for gift - rain, and lots of it.
Asian Christians, a minority in most nations in the region, celebrated the birth of Jesus with services and family feasts. In the Philippines, Asia's only predominantly Christian nation, a flurry of mobile phone text greetings swamped networks as midnight approached.
In mostly Buddhist Japan and Thailand, shoppers packed malls awash with tinsel, Christmas trees and special promotions, reflecting the ever-growing commercialization of the season worldwide.
In continuing separatist violence in Sri Lanka, suspected Tamil Tiger rebels hurdled a grenade at a police post near a church in the northwest, killing a policeman and wounding three others, the government said. In southern Thailand, Muslim insurgents shot and killed a soldier and a civilian.
Tens of thousands of police guarded churches in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation though also home to a significant Christian minority. Six years ago, Muslim extremists bombed churches across the nation as they held Christmas services, killing 19 people.
The United States and Australia warned more attacks were possible this year. The advisories were not based on specific intelligence, but reflect a general belief that extremists are more likely to strike over the holiday season.
"Life and death are in the hands of God," said Lolita Utamisari after attending Mass at Jakarta's main cathedral. "We could die anytime, anywhere. Therefore, there is no need to be scared."
Chinese, Indian and European Christians also worshipped in mostly Muslim Malaysia, while others shopped, clogging roads to Megamall, Asia's largest shopping mall, in the capital Kuala Lumpur.
Residents in Australia's drought-affected southeast danced in the streets as summer rains drenched wildfires that have burned out of control for the past three weeks.
"It rained all last night and this morning," said Kirrily Pay, a hotel manager in Woods Point, Victoria, which has been under threat from the fires. "We had the biggest party, we were absolutely ecstatic, we can't believe we're still here."
Around 800 volunteer firefighters were sent home for Christmas after the rains drenched the fires, which razed more than 8,700 square kilometers of forest and farmland, destroying 32 houses and resulting in the death of a firefighter who fell off a trailer while battling the blaze.
Chinese Christmas was celebrated with Midnight Mass at churches in Beijing and Shanghai.
The English-language China Daily yesterday had a front-page photo of the Mass in Shanghai, but the top news in the Chinese-language media was the funeral of a popular comedian who died on Wednesday.
The top story in the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, was about increased agricultural output.
But the China Daily also ran several comments in response to a recent public call from a group of graduate students that the Chinese should resist imported holidays such as Christmas.
The comments said tolerance should be shown. "Our national culture will not fade only because people are celebrating foreign holidays," said a comment from the Changjiang Times.
Deep in the jungles of Myanmar, the country's ethnic Karen minority celebrated Christmas with prayers and carols in villages and makeshift camps that have been wracked by violence in recent months, witnesses said.
A year-long government offensive by the military junta has forced more than 25,000 to flee and killed dozens, rights groups say.
In Thailand, Christmas was about shopping, sunbathing and relaxing.
The beaches and bars in Phuket - a resort still recovering from the 2004 Asian tsunami - were packed with tourists. Waitresses on Patong beach got into the spirit, dressing up as elves to hand out drink tickets.

Updated : 2021-04-19 18:37 GMT+08:00