Megawati urges end to U.S. strikes
JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri has called for a ceasefire in Afghanistan warning that the longer the conflict continues the more likely the global coalition against terrorism would crumble.
Speaking at the opening of the annual 10-day session of Indonesia's supreme People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) she said military action should be halted during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan and as well as Christmas.
"Prolonged military action is not only counterproductive, but also can weaken the global coalition's joint effort to combat terrorism," she said.
"We call for the need for a humanitarian pause to provide an opportunity to handle humanitarian aspects, and to find a way to find a solution via political and diplomatic means."
Megawati, who heads the world's most populous Muslim country, has been criticized by several religious groups for failing to condemn the U.S.-led military action in Afghanistan.
Her comments came as part of a state of the nation address marking the opening of the MPR session and the completion of her first 100 days in office.
The speech was billed as a progress report on her administration and a chance for her to respond to critics who have accused her of lacking leadership and failing to tackle Indonesia's serious economic and social problems.
However, she offered little in the way of optimism on the country's future.
On the economy she said Indonesia's ability to repay its huge debt burden was "already reaching a dangerous limit".
As a result she said a growing portion of government funds had to be allocated to interest repayment meaning its already thin spending might have to be cut further.
Indonesia's foreign debt of some $140 billion is about the same as the country's annual gross domestic product.
In her address Megawati said that to attract foreign investors back Indonesia would have to repair its battered image by boosting the country's political and social stability.
Earlier the start of the MPR session was delayed briefly after a brawl broke out between legislators.
The fight broke out after regional representatives to the 700-member assembly demanded the right to make a speech announcing the creation of their own faction -- a request turned down by speaker Amien Rais.
Several legislators were shoved and a few punches were thrown in the brief fracas before order was restored and the assembly was able to begin business.
During their 10-day session MPR members will offer their response to Megawati's report.
They are expected to urge the president to show stronger leadership and take a more hands-on approach to ensure much needed reforms are pushed through.
Also during the meeting members are expected to approve legislation paving the way for direct presidential elections in 2004.
The poll would follow a general election scheduled for that year for the 500-member Indonesian parliament although the format of the presidential election has not yet been made clear.
On previous occasions the MPR has appointed presidents and vice presidents -- as well as having the power to sack them, as it did in Wahid's case in July of this year.
Lawmakers backing direct elections have argued that Wahid's appointment to the presidency in 1999 did not reflect the will of the Indonesian people as expressed in parliamentary elections earlier that year.
Wahid's party won only 10 percent of the vote while Megawati's PDI-P took the lion's share of the rest.
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