Gus Dur supporters head for showdown

Amid speculation of an attempt to remove Abdurrahman, Jakarta braces itself for clashes between pro- and anti-government forces on Jan 15.

More than 50,000 supporters of embattled President Abdurrahman Wahid are heading for the capital next week for a possible showdown with anti government forces plotting to topple the Muslim cleric.

Facing both camps will be a 40,000-strong police force, tasked to prevent clashes between pro- and anti-government supporters.

In what could raise political temperatures and further undermine confidence in government, sources in the Nadhlatul Ulama warned that the 30-million-strong Muslim organisation was prepared to use force to resist “unconstitutional attempts” to remove the Indonesian leader.

“What some politicians are doing against Gus Dur is illegal,” maintained Mr Choirul Annam, a NU youth leader and one of the masterminds of the pro-government demonstration.

“We are trying to restrain our people. But if politicians attempt to bring him down, tens of thousands of our supporters will take to the streets.”

Mr Choirul’s comments yesterday take place against a background of speculation of a concerted attempt to oust Mr Abdurrahman on Jan 15 through massive protests in Jakarta similar to how former President Suharto was replaced.

Many NU members are also expected to attend a Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDIP) conference on the same day to lend their support to the Abdurrahman-Megawati leadership.

Jan 15 is the anniversary of the so-called Malari incident of 1974, whichinvolved demonstrations by student protesters against Mr Suharto.

Political observers believe that several of the President’s opponents are likely to use the anniversary of the Malari incident to demand Mr Abdurrahman’s removal.

Several of his rivals in Parliament aim to use the date to summon him over the alleged involvement in the infamous “Bulogate” and “Bruneigate” financial scandals.

National assembly (MPR) chairman Amien Rais, who has been orchestrating the attack against the President, told The Straits Times that a special parliamentary committee had already come up with a preliminary report on the two scandals.

“I think they have enough evidence to get the President,” he said.

“If the findings receive full parliamentary backing, impeachment will be imminent.”

It is expected that anti-government forces will face off with Ansor, the militant NU youth wing known to be fiercely loyal to Mr Abdurrahman, who used to head NU for 15 years.

Indeed, sources told The Straits Times that thousands of them were undergoing training in the NU strongholds of Demak and Jombang in East Java now.

Contingency plans to contain the protests have already been drawn up and police spokesman Salleh Saaf said that security forces would be setting up roadblocks to conduct weapons sweeps of buses entering Jakarta.

Points of entry into Jakarta by bus, train, boat and plane would also be monitored.

It was unclear, however, who will make up those challenging the President on the streets.

The bulk of them are expected to be from the modernist persuasions and the more extremist Islamic groups such as the Front for Islamic Defence.

Analysts believe the disgruntled military elements with an axe to grind against the President would take advantage of the situation if matters got out of hand.

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