Thu, Feb 08, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Wahid dimisses justice minister for disloyalty

INDONESIA The country's president replaced the minister as hundreds of Wahid supporters rallied to defend their leader from allegations of corruption

AP , SURABAYA, INDONESIA

A painted supporter of Indonesian President Abdurahman Wahid waves in front of the district parliament in Surabaya yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

In a sign that Abdurrahman Wahid's government was cracking under pressure following a parliamentary censure, the president sacked his justice minister for disloyalty yesterday, as thousands rallied to protest moves to impeach him.

"Wahid said that I am not loyal to the government, `so I replace you,'" said Justice Minister Yusril Mahendra after meeting the president at the state palace.

Until now Wahid has ignored threats by the legislature to impeach him over two corruption scandals. He has boasted that he enjoyed the full support of his Cabinet and would be able to serve until his term expires in 2004.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia's second largest city of Surabaya, police and troops fired warning shots and tear gas when an estimated 50,000 people rallied in support of Wahid.

Street battles erupted and, in an ominous turn for Indonesia's political crisis, many demanded death for those wanting to unseat Wahid for alleged corruption.

Thousands, some with sickles and knives, besieged the local legislature of Wahid's home province of East Java, where he is revered not only as the nation's leader but also as a Muslim cleric.

Yesterday's protest was the biggest seen in Indonesia in the 15 months since Wahid became its first democratically elected head of state in more than four decades.

Wahid has denied allegations of graft and has refused to quit. He has repeatedly called on his supporters to stay calm.

Nevertheless the protests have snowballed in East Java during the past five days.

"The poor people and the farmers will die for Wahid," said one protester, who identified himself only as Sugeng. "Blood will flow if he is forced to step down."

In Jakarta, military chiefs said that they would continue to support the civilian government and maintain order in line with the Constitution.

Even so, one mob attacked the Surabaya office of Golkar, the party of former dictator Suharto and a major force against Wahid. Three police officers and several protesters were injured, witnesses said.

At one stage police fled after they were overwhelmed by the protesters, but security forces later retook the building. Several cars were torched in the melee.

Elsewhere protesters burned effigies of Wahid's rivals. Others carried banners reading: "If Wahid falls, the country will be destroyed."

Passions ran high within the ranks of demonstrators. The crowd cheered when speakers demanded his political opponents be mutilated or executed.

"If anyone tries to topple Wahid, we will revolt," said protest organizer Mohamad Sujadi.

In the nearby town of Mojokerto, several thousand pro-Wahid demonstrators ransacked the offices of three political parties.

An investigative committee last week released a report claiming that he knew about an illegal transfer of US$4 million from the state food agency by a former business associate.

It also criticized him for failing to declare a US$2 million aid donation from the ruler of neighboring Brunei.

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