Jakarta: Millions of Muslims across Asia began celebrating the end of the fasting month of Ramadan Thursday with solemn sunrise prayers followed by savory high-calorie feasts to mark their holiest holiday, despite concerns over violence looming across parts of the region and elsewhere worldwide.
In Indonesia, the world`s most populous Muslim nation, throngs of believers made their way to mosques donning brand new clothes to kick off the start of Eid al-Fitr, festivities that culminate after a month of dawn-to-dusk fasting and prayer when Muslims are supposed to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex as a way to test their faith.
Not all countries begin celebrations on the same day. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, for instance, are expected to officially begin Eid tomorrow after the moon is sighted by officials there.
Despite the holiday`s peaceful message, some countries remained on heightened alert amid fears over potential violence in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia.
Concerns also lingered in parts of the Middle East and Africa after Washington temporarily closed 19 diplomatic posts over terrorism worries while US and British embassy employees were evacuated from Yemen where the government announced it had foiled an al Qaeda plot.
Earlier this week, a small bomb exploded outside a Buddhist temple packed with devotees praying in Jakarta. Officials have said the attack appears to have been carried out by militant Muslims angry over sectarian violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
National Police chief Gen. Timur Pradopo said he mobilized thousands of officers to help safeguard the millions involved in the mass exodus across the country, an archipelago of some 17,000 islands.
Police also stood guard at mosques, churches and temples in many cities.
Authorities in Central Java also tightened security around Borobudur, an ancient Buddhist temple and a major tourist site.
In the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, about 100 Muslims braved a stormy morning to pray at the city`s sole mosque on the edge of the city`s old quarter. The Vietnamese imam gave a sermon in Arabic and then English to the congregation, most of whom were expatriates. Vietnam is also home to some 60,000 indigenous Muslims, most of them in the south.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines government troops and police strengthened security in the southern province of Maguindanao and outlying regions due to a spate of deadly bombings and other attacks during Ramadan that were blamed on a breakaway Muslim group called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement.