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Wahid cabinet issues plea to parliament

Wahid supporters
Supporters of Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid have been flocking to Jakarta ahead of Monday's parliamentary vote  

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JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia's troubled cabinet has appealed to parliament not to censure President Abdurrahman Wahid a second time, fearing it will trigger violent protests.

Justice Minister Baharadun Lopa told reporters after meeting parliamentary speaker Akbar Tandjung that "the cabinet wants peace". Asia
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"The cabinet asked parliament not to issue the second censure. The cabinet is very concerned about how the situation is developing now," Lopa said.

Many observers say the move could result in renewed violence between supporters and opponents of President Wahid.

Earlier police chiefs warned they are ready to shoot rioters when MPs meet on Monday.

Wahid has already been censured once for his role in two financial scandals, and a second would take him closer to impeachment after just 17 months as Indonesia's first democratically elected president.

The president has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, police have deployed extra personnel to protect foreign embassies in case they are targeted by rioters.

A police spokesman said embassies and offices of international organizations were receiving special protection in case riots broke out in the streets leading up to, or following, Monday's parliamentary session.

"We have deployed extra personnel to protect all embassies here, and also offices of international organizations such as the U.N.," said Anton Bahrul Alam, Jakarta police spokesman, on Friday.

"We don't want them to be nervous, or panic and leave Indonesia. It would be embarrassing for us and would worsen our country's already bad image."

Thousands of Wahid supporters -- many from his home province East Java -- are already flocking to Jakarta for a prayer-rally on Sunday, organized by the 40-million strong Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Muslim organization, a body once led by Wahid.

Suicide squads

NU officials said they expected between 200,000 to 400,000 people would attend the rally.

Tens of thousands of police will be deployed on the streets of Jakarta in the event of clashes  

Some of them are die-hard supporters who have joined suicide squads and pledged their lives to defend the president.

Wahid is scheduled to make a televised address the nation at 8pm local time (1400 GMT), and is expected to call for unity and reconciliation among Indonesia's various ethnic and religious populations.

Presidential spokesman Wimar Witoelar will read the speech for Wahid, but the president will be there at his side.

"The content will be a call for peace," said Wimar.

Meanwhile, local media reported that warriors of the Islamic 'Laskar Jihad' group said they were ready to help the security forces safeguard the capital.

The official Antara news agency said that embassies, including the United States, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands, had requested special protection as the political heat mounted.

Spokesmen from the Netherlands, British, and Canadian embassies said they have issued advisories to their citizens in Indonesia, but denied reports that the diplomatic missions have sought police protection.

On alert

"We haven't asked for any special protection," said Lance Abbott of the Canadian Embassy, adding the embassy is closely monitoring the situation.

The U.S. Embassy refused to deny or confirm the special security request, but it said: "This embassy is in close communication with Indonesian police and security forces about proper measures in days ahead of parliamentary session on Monday."

The Australian Embassy, which was targeted by ultra-nationalist demonstrators protesting the country's interference in East Timor independence, also said they were not seeking extra protection.

"We aren't expecting protesters wouldn't target expatriates, but it is possible that they could be caught up in an undesirable situation," said Kirk Coningham, spokesman for the Australian Embassy.

Fears over violence have helped sink the rupiah currency past 12,000 to the dollar for the first time since September 1998.

However, at the opening of trading Friday it had recovered a little to be quoted just below 12,000.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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