Gus Dur off to East Java to ease tension

Violence festered in Indonesia yesterday as police fired warning shots at thousands of supporters of President Abdurrahman Wahid who continued to run amok.

With unrest spreading to Yogyakarta and South Sulawesi, the palace announced that the Muslim cleric would visit East Java today to “defuse tension” in the heartland of his political support, the first area to be hit by mobs protesting against attempts to oust him.

“The President will express his concern to help calm the people there,” presidential spokesman Wimar Witoelar told reporters yesterday.

Mr Wimar said the Indonesian leader would visit the town of Pasuruan, about 60 km from the capital of Surabaya, which sources said was likely to be the next “hot spot”.

East Java has seen a week of unrest where up to 50,000 members of the 30-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama (NU), which Mr Abdurrahman used to head, attacked the offices of the former ruling party Golkar, torched buildings and cars, and seized a ferry port.

Police sources said there was still simmering tension in Surabaya, Pasuruan, Mojokerto and Malang.

Much of the violence was directed at Golkar, seen to be behind moves to oust him. Golkar officials, who persuaded Mr Abdurrahman to make the trip to East Java, said at least nine of its offices in the province had been attacked in the last week. Its branch office in Surabaya was razed.

Mr Choirul Anam, one of the NU leaders, lent credence to such concerns by warning that the demonstration would stop only if “legislators stop plotting to persecute Gus Dur”.

“We have got the numbers to cause problems everywhere in Indonesia,” he said.

His threat was again borne out yesterday. In the town of Lamongan, near Surabaya, 10,000 rock-throwing demonstrators tried to raze a local Golkar office. Police fired warning shots to disperse them.

Security forces were also forced to fire shots in the air to break up a fight between rival groups of students outside the local legislature in South Sulawesi.

Thousands of supporters of the President also marched through Yogyakarta, but the demonstration ended peacefully. Undeterred by the violence, People’s Consultative Assembly Speaker Amien Rais said he was still pushing for early impeachment.

The only way to stop further violence was for the President to step down immediately, he said.

“I would like to think that we are in a boxing match with Gus Dur. The legislators gave him a sharp upper cleft when we found him guilty in the financial scandals. But we need to continue giving him jabs so that we can knock him out.”

He had secured more than 200 signatures for a petition calling for an early assembly session, he said.

But analysts believe he is becoming a lone voice, with the PDI-P, Golkar and the military preferring to give Mr Abdurrahman time to defend himself.

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