Habibie fears takeover by military

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT of the Indonesian President, B J Habibie, does not have full control over its armed forces and is living in fear of a military take-over, according to a senior member of his personal staff.

In remarks that will cause renewed alarm over the political stability of Indonesia, Mr Habibie's spokeswoman, Dewi Fortuna Anwar, said violent disturbances, such as those in which at least 16 people died in Jakarta last Friday, could be used by the military as an excuse to seize power. She also revealed that military commanders did not tell the President about last week's deaths until more than five hours after police and soldiers fired plastic bullets indiscriminately into crowds of unarmed demonstrators.

The first shots were fired at about 3.40pm, and foreign journalists saw the body of a student killed by a plastic bullet soon after 4pm. But, according to Ms Dewi, the President was first told about the disturbances at 9.30pm shortly before delivering the closing speech at a special session of parliament. "If it is true that he has not been informed then of course that worries me," Ms Dewi told The Independent. Asked whether the government had full supremacy over the military, she said: "Not yet. We are not in a democracy yet.

"For the past 32 years, the military has been the senior party in our political system and that is what we are trying to change. If we open the way to street confrontation ... we are actually handing out the sticks to the military, and that is what we have to prevent. If you have confrontations, I am scared that the civilian authority will not have control and the military will say enough is enough, we are letting loose too quickly."

Ms Dewi's remarks explain much about the recent public statements by Mr Habibie, who has conspicuously failed to condemn the actions of the military and appears to be blaming the student and opposition movement for Friday's violence. The streets of Jakarta were calm for a second consecutive day yesterday, but the police continued to arrest for questioning opposition politicians in what many Indonesians fear is a crackdown on critics of the government.

In a televised broadcast, the President offered condolences to the families of those killed and promised to take "firm action against those who have violated the law, including the security forces". But he blamed the unrest on unspecified groups plotting to oust his government.

"The students' movement, a bearer of moral messages, has been spoilt by irresponsible groups that want to make use of the students for their own objective of attacking the government," he said, flanked by the armed forces commander, Lt-Gen Wiranto, and his predecessor, the Political and Security Affairs minister, Feisal Tanjung. "The November 13 incident constitutes a fresh example for all of us of how dangerous and costly anarchic actions can be."

Eleven people have been summonsed for questioning by the police, although by last night none had been formally charged. They included Sri Bintang Pamungkas, a former political prisoner who was released last May from a sentence imposed for "insulting" the former president General Suharto, and Ali Sadikin, a retired general, former cabinet minister and bitter critic of Mr Habibie. Early yesterday, three more prominent opposition figures were arrested, including the soothsayer Permadi Satrio Wiwoho.

A police spokesman said there would be further summonses. "From the investigation and interrogation, there have been violations of the law covering conspiracy to acts of treason and to topple a legitimate government," Brigadier Togar Sianipar said.

Indonesia's controversial "subversion" laws were regularly used to suppress critics of Mr Suharto's so-called "New Order" regime until demonstrations and riots forced him to resign last May. Yesterday, the Muslim leader, Abdurrahman Wahid, said that "the mention of subversion is just an effort to divert public attention".