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Megawati calls for unity

Megawati follows in the footsteps of her father, Indonesia's first president Sukarno  

By staff and wire reports

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Megawati Sukarnoputri has been formally sworn-in as the new president of Indonesia following the ouster of the country's embattled leader, Abdurrahman Wahid.

The daughter of Indonesia's founding president Sukarno and the fourth leader in as many turbulent years, Megawati appealed to Indonesians to put their differences aside and build a great nation.

"To all the people of Indonesia wherever you are, I ask let's look to the future and let's unite and develop and fix our nation as one nation," she said during her acceptance speech.

"Let's look to the future and let's unite and develop and fix our nation." - Megawati

Megawati's ascension to power follows a dramatic weekend in Indonesian politics, which culminated in lawmakers beginning fast-track impeachment proceedings to remove Wahid from office after just 20 months in power.

The motion to force the nearly blind leader from office was passed 591-0 following a confused debate over parliamentary procedure.

Immediately afterwards Megawati was sworn in as president, taking the formal oath of office.

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At a glance: Indonesia

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Observers say Megawati faces many challenges in asserting her new-found authority -- but perhaps the first and most difficult will be what to do with her former boss.

Wahid himself has yet to give his reaction to the appointment but said earlier in the day that he would ignore calls for him to step aside.

Wahid biographer and Australian academic Greg Barton told ABC television in Australia of "a rather somber mood" at the palace.

"It's a sad acceptance of what now appears to be inevitable. I think for the president [Wahid] most of all, it's come as a shock and he's having trouble dealing with it."

'Voice of the people'

In a thinly veiled attack on Wahid's efforts to cling to power, Megawati appealed to lawmakers to accept her presidency.

"I call on all parties to accept this democratic process today truly," she said. "This is the voice of the people which we must uphold."

"In my view, the respect to peoples' wishes and to accept what they have decided on the rules of the game is the basic principle that is a pillar of democracy."

Jakarta streets were reported quiet after the vote, but security remained tight around the capital amid fears of civil unrest in the lead up to and following the remarkable political events of the day.

No violence has yet been reported either in Jakarta or in Wahid's political heartland of East Java where Muslim leaders ordered his fanatical supporters not to protest.

Challenges ahead

Accepting her new role with "humbleness", Megawati said the road ahead would be difficult as she attempts to turn around Indonesia's economic and political woes.

"I am very conscious about the work ahead of me. It is not going to be easy," she said.

"We need togetherness in order to face the challenges and we also need a political situation that is calmer so we can face all the challenges."

After the swearing in ceremony, Megawati refused to answer questions from reporters, instead reading out a statement which ordered the current Cabinet to assume a caretaker role until a new government is named "in a few days."

Praise from Bush

Lawmakers applauded the result of the vote and welcomed the new leader
Lawmakers applauded the result of the vote and welcomed the new leader  

U.S. president George W. Bush praised Indonesia's transition of power and said his government was eager to work with Megawati.

"We look forward to working with President Megawati and her team to address Indonesia's challenges of economic reform, peaceful resolution of separatist challenges, and maintaining territorial integrity," Bush said in a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Analysts agree that Megawati's faces enormous challenges and expect her to govern by consensus relying heavily on advisers and minders.

"Megawati has no strategy of how she wants to run the country," said leading political analyst Salim Said.

While Megawati may be more popular than any other Indonesian politician, analysts worry that she will become a puppet of the military.

Emergency decree

Wahid talking
Wahid has said he will refuse to leave the palace  

What future Wahid faces is now uncertain, despite his assertion that he will not relinquish his role as president.

Early on Monday morning, in a last ditch attempt to hold on to his job, he declared a state of emergency ordering parliament dissolved immediately and calling for elections next year.

He said emergency rule was the only way to stop Indonesia falling apart.

"If these things are not stopped soon, it will destroy the united nation of Indonesia," he said.

Wahid had warned that if he was impeached the troublesome provinces of Aceh and West Papua would break away and violence would prevail.

However, both the military and the police refused to give their backing to the decree, as did six members of the presidential cabinet -- including Security Minister, Agum Gumelar and cabinet secretary Marzuki Darusman, who resigned in protest.

Lawmakers also refused to recognize the order and following a Supreme Court ruling on the legality of the assembly's special session proceeded with the impeachment process Monday morning.


Wahid, 61, was accused of political incompetence and involvement in two cases of corruption, charges he has repeatedly denied.

He was elected to the presidency by the MPR in 1999 following Indonesia's first democratic elections in 1999.

Initially, the nearly blind Muslim scholar enjoyed wide support amid hopes he would deliver economic and democratic reforms after years of corrupt dictatorship.

But relations quickly soured with lawmakers, who accused him of erratic policies and claimed that he was too frail after a series of strokes.

He also failed to quell communal and separatist conflicts that have killed thousands across the sprawling Indonesian archipelago.

Corruption continued to flourish and attempts to prosecute those guilty of graft, including former dictator Suharto, mostly came to nothing.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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