The Indonesian government has reassured Muslims that it is okay to say "Merry Christmas" - despite the country's main Islamic group forbidding the term.

The chairman of the Indonesia Ulema Council, KH Mar'ruf, this week declared the greeting was forbidden under Islam.

But Indonesia's religious affairs minister, Suryadharma Ali, has contradicted this view, saying it is normal to convey Christmas greetings to Christians.

Mr Ali says this does not amount to participating in a forbidden religious ritual.

Local media reports say a representative of the Ulema Council is now calling on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to skip a national Christmas celebration scheduled for December 27.

Security boost

Meanwhile, around 82,000 policeman have been rostered on to guard Christian churches across the Muslim-majority nation against the threat of terrorist attacks.

"The Candle Operation" began on December 23 and will end on January 1.

In 2000, Indonesia was rocked by a series of bomb blasts at a number of churches and police stations across the country on Christmas Eve.