Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Friday urged the country’s citizens to respect diversity, amid criticism that his government is not doing enough to stem rising religious intolerance.

“I call on all of us to realize that our country is diverse,” Mr. Yudhoyono said in a speech to parliament on the eve of Independence Day.

“Under the spirit of unity in diversity, we need to continue to strengthen tolerance,” he said.

The president said the nation guarantees the rights of minorities and does not discriminate based on race, religion or social status.

Human rights groups say intolerance against minority Shia and Ahmadi Muslims and Christians has been on the rise in Indonesia.

The Setara Institute, a non-governmental group, said from January to June this year there were 122 acts of intolerance against religious minorities in Indonesia perpetrated by hardline Islamist groups and state institutions.

These included forcible closures of places of worship, discrimination and inflammatory public statements by officials about religious minorities, the institute said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the government had been unwilling to prosecute the perpetrators and amend existing laws and regulations that discriminate against religious minorities.

“Human Rights Watch warned that a failure by Mr. Yudhoyono to act decisively against religious intolerance would foster a form of ’toxic osmosis’ and only encourage Islamist militants to target new victims,” the group’s Indonesia researcher Andreas Harsono said on August 7.

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