UPDATE 1-INTERVIEW-Indonesia has no plans to ban Islamic sect
(Adds quotes, fuel prices, economy)
JAKARTA, June 10 (Reuters) - Indonesia's vice president said the government does not plan to ban a sect branded by many Muslims as "heretical", and denied too that authorities had been soft on a militant Islamic group blamed for attacks.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday that the Ahmadiyya sect can continue in Indonesia and its followers were allowed to worship in their homes and mosques, but they must not preach or try to convert others,
"No, they (the government) have no plan to ban Ahmadiyya," provided it follows the law, Kalla said.
The government has come under increasing pressure from hardline and some mainstream Muslim groups to outlaw Ahmadiyya, whose followers do not accept the Prophet Mohammad as Islam's final prophet and who say their founder is a prophet and messiah.
On Monday, the government issued a ministerial decree that stopped short of banning the sect, while warning that followers could face five years in jail for tarnishing religion.
The decree, which has been slammed by rights groups, simply reiterated what is permitted under the constitution, Kalla said.
Mosques and buildings belonging to Ahmadiyya, which is estimated to have anywhere from 200,000 to two million followers in Indonesia, have been attacked in recent months.
On June 1, the Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI), a militant group, also provoked a public outcry when it beat up women and elderly people at a peaceful rally held to celebrate freedom of religion and tolerance for Ahmadiyya.
Kalla dismissed criticism that the authorities had failed to defend the rally and were slow to act against the militant group.
He said that policing had been difficult as more than 100,000 people had gathered in the area, pointing out that the FPI's leader, Habib Rizieq Shihab, had later been detained.
"Yes, he's going to court and the police will investigate why they make force like that and they will be investigated."
Asked whether the government would ban FPI, Kalla said: "Any organisation can exist as long as they don't break the law."
Kalla, who many analysts say harbours ambitions to run against President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for the presidency in 2009, addressed political and economic issues in the interview.
He said there was no need for the government to raise fuel prices again before the 2009 elections, even though fuel subsidies could hit about $20 billion this year.
"I don't think we need it before elections because we now have done it last month," he said.
Fuel prices were raised by an average of nearly 30 percent in May, prompting protests in Jakarta and other big cities. Despite the rise, Indonesia's fuel prices are among the lowest in Asia.
Kalla said as more households convert to using gas cylinders instead of kerosene for cooking, and with increased use of coal to produce electricity rather than pricey diesel, spending on fuel subsidies should decline in the next three years.
The vice president also said he expected growth in Southeast Asia's biggest economy to exceed 6 percent this year, helped by rising exports of commodities such as palm oil and cocoa, and reach 9 percent by 2011.
Earlier this month, the finance ministry forecast GDP growth of 6.0-6.4 percent in 2008, and 6.2-6.5 percent next year. (Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by David Fox)
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