Megawati forced to ditch plans for rally

Bowing to a government ban, she holds a commemoration ceremony at her South Jakarta home instead.

A FIRM stance by the Indonesian authorities yesterday forced opposition politician Megawati Sukarnoputri to abandon plans for a rally in the city to mark a violent clash between her supporters and security forces in 1996.

Ms Megawati, ousted as leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) two years ago, was forced instead to hold a “Muslim prayer service” at her South Jakarta home in which sources say was attended by up to 15,000 people.

She had earlier planned to stage a mass rally at the PDI headquarters – site of the 1996 confrontation when the armed forces (Abri) evicted her supporters from the building – and then march to the Senayan sports stadium in central Jakarta.

But military chief General Wiranto blocked the plan citing security concerns.

“We are not discriminating against anyone from carrying out such demonstrations,” he told reporters. “But the risks of having such a big gathering are just too high. We are not allowing it because of it could affect the larger interests of society.”

The military deployed some 9,000 troops at key city intersections and streets leading to Ms Megawati’s house as thousands of flag-waving supporters made their way there.

Several shops in the south were shuttered as riot police kept watch on the sometimes boisterous crowd carrying red flags symbolising the party colours and pictures of Miss Megawati.

In her speech to the crowds, the daughter of the country’s founding president Soekarno criticised the government for banning the planned rally.

“This just shows the anti-democratic tendencies of the Habibie government,” she said. “This meeting is an expression of concern by patriots and it looks like the government is trying to erase the July incident from Indonesian history.

“I have been a very good citizen. I have followed the law. The problem is what kind of law do they mean I should abide by.”

Also present at the prayer session, which ended peacefully after two hours, were former Jakarta governor Ali Sadikin and more than 1,000 representatives of the Nadhlatul Ulama Muslim organisation.

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