Embattled Wahid says he will not stand down

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The Independent Online

The beleagured Indonesian president, Abdurrahman Wahid, denounced plans by parliament to impeach him and closeted himself with his military advisers last night after bombs exploded in two Jakarta churches, wounding more than 70 worshippers.

In a televised speech, the almost blind Mr Wahid refused to stand down and refused to appear at the national assembly proceedings, scheduled for today, to answer allegations of corruption and incompetence.

He denied acting for personal motives and accused forces opposed to democratic reform of wanting to topple him. He also said that only fresh elections could resolve the crisis gripping the country, but refrained from announcing a snap poll and did not declare a threatened state of emergency. However a further statement was awaited during the night.

With the capital bracing itself for violent protests and political turmoil, more than 2,000 troops and about 70 tanks and armoured vehicles drove through Jakarta's streets and assembled in a downtown park for a hastily arranged parade, in the biggest show of force the city has seen in years.

By last night no one had claimed responsibility for the two bombs which went off during morning services in neighbouring Catholic and Protestant churches.

After months of agonising manoeuvring, Mr Wahid appears to have reached the end of the political road and is almost certain to be forced from power before the end of the week, and possibly as early as today. On Saturday, the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) summoned him to give a speech of accountability for his 20 months in power. If he does refuse, as he promised yesterday, he will be voted from office, and replaced by his vice-president, Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Yesterday's explosions added to the volatility and confusion, although no one has suggested that Mr Wahid, a Muslim cleric and an avowed pacifist, played any part in them. "The president was deeply concerned over the bombings," a presidential palace spokesman said.

At least two worshippers lost their legs when the first bomb exploded among 800 worshipper at the Roman Catholic Santa Ana church. "It was right before the sermon started," one of the survivors, Maria Immaculata, said. "I was praying and it suddenly exploded. It turned very dark, I was crawling on the floor asking for help. I was screaming. I collapsed."

Other witnesses reported a loud blast followed by panic as thick smoke billowed through the church and a piece of the ceiling collapsed on to the congregation. No one was injured by the second bomb which exploded soon afterwards in front of a nearby Protestant church.

AB Susanto, the chairman of the Indonesian Catholic Society, said: "We are being terrorised by people who don't want peace, but who want to create chaos."

Explosions have become a feature of life in Jakarta, and occur most often at times of heightened political tension. In the past fortnight alone, two hand grenades have exploded in the street after being thrown out of passing cars.