Wahid warns of mob rule as assembly votes to oust him

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The Independent Online

President Abdurrahman Wahid warned of mob rule yesterday as Indonesia's upper house of parliament took the final steps towards forcing him from office.

Barring a last-minute compromise, Mr Wahid will be ousted as early as tomorrow, bringing to an end months of political feuding between the Indonesian parliament and its first ever democratically elected president.

A vote by the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) would end his five-year term in office after only 21 turbulent months.

Hundreds of police, backed up with bales of razor wire and a dozen armoured cars, guarded the parliament building in Jakarta as the 700 members gathered yesterday to vote by a majority of 592 to 5 to inaugurate a special session of the MPR to impeach Mr Wahid.

Despite imminent humiliation, Mr Wahid seems determined to go down fighting. He suggested his supporters would react to his dismissal by taking the law into their own hands.

"I have at my side [non-government organisations], the university students and many social organisations," he told a news conference at the presidential palace. "Don't blame me if the crowd takes care of everything by themselves."

The President rejected a summons to appear on Monday before the Assembly, Indonesia's highest constitutional body. It is now almost certain to vote for his dismissal.

"I will not attend this illegal meeting," he said. "This is an act of treason. I have many options. I won't say what I will do. But I will do something."

However, Mr Wahid has backed himself into a corner, and the worry in Jakarta is that the violence of his followers is the only option left to him.

In his home province of East Java, tens of thousands of supporters have been practising martial arts, swordsmanship and protective magic. At previous moments in the process towards impeachment, they have travelled to Jakarta to conduct menacing, but largely peaceful, demonstrations.

In May at least one man was killed, and dozens of buildings were damaged, when police fired on the President's supporters in the East Java town of Pasuruan. "I can assure you that I've been saying to the crowd everywhere, 'Please don't come to Jakarta'," Mr Wahid said. "Because I am against violence. I am a follower of Mahatma Gandhi."

The security forces in Jakarta, however, are taking no chances, and 42,000 soldiers and police are deployed around the city in front of embassies and public buildings. Mr Wahid has repeated threats to call a state of emergency unless parliament dropped its plans to sack him.

Emergency powers would allow him to dissolve parliament, suspend press freedoms and call new elections. He had threatened to do this last Friday but it became clear that the plan had no support among senior military officers.

He then put off the state of emergency until 31 July. Parliament responded by beginning its proceedings without delay.

The last few days in Jakarta have been marked by almost farcical confusion with legislators and presidential spokesmen contradicting one another by the hour.

The latest flap came late yesterday when Mr Wahid's ally and friend Rachmawati Sukarnoputri emerged from a meeting with him bearing the news that he was planning to declare a state of emergency after all.

"The President will issue the decree in one or two days," she said. "But I don't know the precise [day]."

Ms Rachmawati is the younger sister of Megawati Sukarnoputri, Indonesia's Vice-President, who is expected to take over from Mr Wahid after his removal.

Violence in the country's restive outlying provinces, meanwhile, continues to cast its long shadow. Fighting in the troubled Aceh province yesterday left 21 people dead. Human rights activists warned that the region was on the verge of "all-out war".

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