Indonesian Assembly begins impeachment of President Wahid

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The end looms large for President Abdurrahman Wahid of Indonesiaas the country's legislators announced that they would meet on Saturday to vote him out of office. The chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), Amien Rais, said it would start proceedings against him on Saturday morning, 10 days earlier than expected.

The weakness of the President's position was made clear as he backed down from a threat to declare a state of emergency unless his political enemies in the MPR gave up attempts to unseat him.

He threatened instead to declare the emergency on 31 July, the night before the MPR had originally been scheduled to meet. He said he still hoped for a compromise before then.

The Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle, led by his Vice-President, Megawati Suk-arnoputri, formally withdrew its support for him yesterday. "I can guarantee that Wahid will be removed from office," a spokesman said.

Madam Megawati is standing by to take over as President.

Mr Wahid has seen his position steadily undermined over the past fortnight by an inability to enforce his decision to sack the national police chief, General Bimantoro, who has simply refused to leave office.

His swearing-in of a successor on Thursday drew a furious reaction from the MPR. "The appointment of General Chaeruddin Ismail as temporary national police chief is, let us say, just a trick," Dr Rais said.

The streets of Jakarta were calm yesterday and it was business as usual, but thousands of police and security personnel were primed for deployment and many foreign companies have made evacuation plans.

"Rest assured there will be some 42,000 security personnel, both police and military on high alert and nearly 5,600 officers stationed around the assembly building," said Sofjan Jacoeb, Jakarta's police chief.

The efforts to remove Mr Wahid have been grinding on since last year when he was implicated in two financial scandals. Subsequent investigations absolved him of criminal involvement in either, but by that time his stubbornness and eccentricity had lost him support. Even if he was to declare a state of emergency, it would be widely ignored.

The armed forces have by and large remained neutral. The actions of their generals over the next few days will be crucial to the coming power struggle, as will Mr Wahid's undoubted bargaining skills.