Indonesian opposition leader tries to call off protest
Fear of bloodshed at rallies planned for Wednesday
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May 19, 1998
Web posted at: 11:02 p.m. EDT (0302 GMT)
JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Indonesian opposition leader Amien Rais has attempted to call off a protest planned for this National Awakening Day for fear that a red-letter day could become tinged with blood.
Student protesters have vowed to continue their rally on the grounds of the Parliament, which they occupied Tuesday. They say they want to be sure their demand that President Suharto step down is heard
and heard clearly.
Troops have established a heavy presence in central Jakarta, rolling out tanks and barbed wire barricades and setting up roadblocks. They are apparently trying to block access to the square surrounding Jakarta's national monument, where Wednesday's demonstration was scheduled to take place.
The protest against Suharto's rule was planned weeks ago to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the founding of modern Indonesian nationalism, known as National Awakening Day.
On Tuesday, following a week of riots and the loss of parliamentary support, President Suharto announced plans to end his 32-year rule. He said he would step down after introducing long called-for political reforms and holding parliamentary elections. He gave not timetable.
Rais initially rejected Suharto's statement and called for the protest to continue. But early Wednesday morning he went on radio and television to try to stop the demonstration.
"Since midnight, I have been observing the military preparations to crack down on the people who are going to go to demonstrate today," Rais said. "So to fight bloodshed, to fight physical conflicts which is unnecessary, I make a very strong appeal to the people to just backtrack, backpedal from their plan to show their force against Suharto."
Rais asked protesters to stay home and pray for the success of reforms.
A soldier sits on his tank awaiting demonstrations in Jakarta
About 2,000 students had spent the night camped on the grounds of the Parliament building. The army has said they could stay as long as they are peaceful.
The students pulled together three desks into a makeshift stage on the Parliament grounds, and the military allowed more students onto the grounds.
With no firm timetable for Suharto's departure, thousands of angry students demanded he quit now.
"He has made many political promises in the past, but they were never fulfilled," said one student.
Critics complained that Suharto, 76, was trying to prolong his time in office. Others said the ploy would help protect the vast business interests of his family.
About 100 protesters climbed to the roof of the Parliament building Tuesday, waving flags and banners. Others staged a sit-in within the legislature's complex.
In Surabaya, Indonesia's second largest city, soldiers with sticks beat students who marched in the street, a witness said. About 20 protesters were injured.
Protests also were planned for Wednesday in other major Indonesian cities. Organizers predicted the demonstrations would bring as many as one million people into the streets of Jakarta and other cities.
Suharto's decision to relinquish power and hold new parliamentary elections follows months of protests which, in recent days, deteriorated into rioting that left 500 people dead.
Indonesia has been among the nations hardest hit by the Asian economic crisis. Reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund led to sharp increases in the price of food and fuel.
In a nationally televised address, Suharto said he will remain in office while he readies the country of 202 million people for a new political era.
"I will not be prepared to be elected any more," he said. "I have taken the decision as president to implement and lead the national reform immediately."
He said a Cabinet reshuffle would be announced soon and he would appoint a special reform council to draft new laws for the elections and change the structure of Parliament.
Suharto did not give a time frame for when the elections would be held but stressed he would follow the country's 1945 constitution. The process could take months.
"If we do not uphold the constitution, the country will be finished," the Indonesian president said.
He spoke in a somber monotone and with his head down as he read from a text. At times during his speech, he paused for several seconds.
Suharto has been Asia's longest-serving leader. He has served six five-year terms unchallenged as head of state and was reappointed to a seventh term unanimously by a national assembly only last March. He was to have ended that term in 2003.
"There is no need to worry that I will defend my right to the presidency," Suharto said. "That is not at all the case."
In his speech, Suharto emphasized continuity and urged calm in the world's fourth most populous nation. "Let us all now contemplate in a profound way the destiny of our nation," he said. "Do not allow emotions to go out of control."
"Let us not allow our legacy to degenerate into chaos. Let us honor the legacy of our independence heroes who have given their lives for the creation of our great nation."
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