Students gather at parliament building to bait president

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The Independent Online
IN INDONESIAN law, "insulting the president" is a crime punishable by imprisonment, but these days it is something closer to a national sport. Yesterday saw the equivalent of the Indonesian President-Insulting Championships. They were held in the grounds of the country's own tame parliament, in the heart of the fake democracy which Mr Suharto has constructed for himself over the last three decades.

Two months ago, during the sitting of the "People's Consultative Assembly" or DPR, the parliament of stooges unanimously elected Mr Suharto for a seventh consecutive term. You needed two sets of identity cards to enter here, and protesters who tried to demonstrate outside were dragged away by police. Yesterday, it was a playground for Suharto-baiters and the most remarkable thing of all was that no one seemed surprised.

They arrived throughout the day in buses laid on for the purpose - students, former students and professors from Jakarta's most famous universities. The academics entered the assembly itself to deliver petitions demanding political reform and the immediate resignation of President Suharto. In a committee room, where he had been invited to speak by the parliamentarians who have fed off his patronage for three decades, the Muslim political scientist Amien Rais jabbed his finger at the official portrait of Mr Suharto which hangs in every public room in Indonesia. "He has to go, and the sooner the better" he said, to cheers from his supporters. "There can be no political reform without a change of national leadership. We are running out of time."

Outside the buildings - a white Sixties shoe box alongside a green-roofed tropical mushroom - students danced around the dozen or so tanks and armoured cars in the grounds. A few hundred soldiers looked on holding their automatic rifles, and trying to avoid the flowers which were periodically thrust towards their barrels.

"We don't want Suharto anymore!" was the mildest of the chants, which also included the ever popular "Hang Suharto", and a new favourite - a children's nonsense rhyme, adapted to refer to the most notoriously greedy of Suharto's children. "Bambang Tut! Akan galing! Bambang and Tutut - their father is a dog!"

The army, the police, the parliament itself could all have stopped this happening, but they have given up. In part, they are afraid of provoking more of the terrible violence which burned through Jakarta last week. But there was something else yesterday: an acknowledgement that the students are simply right. After one of Suharto's closest allies, the leader of the house, Mr Harmoko, released his statement urging the President to step down, a student read it out loud, Yeltsin-like, from the top of a tank.

"I have never thought that I would come in here," said one young man. "But we are the people and so this is our own home."