Sun, 21 May 2000

Fresh rallies staged against Soeharto

JAKARTA (JP): Ahead of the second anniversary of Soeharto's resignation, which falls on Sunday, a group of some 300 anti- Soeharto protesters attempted on Saturday to break through the cordon of a troop of some 50 riot police to reach the former president's residence on Jl. Cendana, Central Jakarta.

Like the efforts of many similar protesting groups, the university students, grouped under the City Network (Jarkot) organization, failed to meet their aim as they were blockaded by the police at a small roundabout on Jl. Teuku Umar, some 200 meters from Soeharto's house.

There were no clashes during the rally.

The Jarkot protesters, who made a strong demand for Soeharto to be immediately brought to court for alleged corruption, collusion and nepotism (KKN) practices, were only involved in negotiations with the officers, led by newly-appointed Central Jakarta Police Operation Control Commander Maj. Ricky F. Wakanno, who stuck to his decision not to allow the students to pass the police cordon.

Before dispersing peacefully, the students performed the Maghrib (dusk) prayer, together with the security officers led by Lt. Col. Aqil of the National Police VIP guard service.

During the three-hour evening rally, the protesters held free- speech talks and sang songs using words humiliating to Soeharto and those connected to him.

"It's impossible to imagine Soeharto in court because (Attorney General) Marzuki Darusman is also a Golkar person," one of the students shouted, referring to the former party chaired by Soeharto.

"There's no way for a student to bring his teacher to court, no way," he continued.

Others called for an end to the military's dual-function, particularly its role in politics.

"The military will only use it to colonize democracy in this country," another protester told the crowd.

Prior to their arrival on Jl. Teuku Umar, the Jarkot activists rallied in front of the Jakarta Police Headquarters on Jl. Sudirman, South Jakarta, asking for the release of their detained friends.

At the gate, the students were told by some police officers that their fellow friends had already been released.

Marching to Cendana, the protesters were stopped by security officers as they were about to enter Jl. Madiun, near the official residence of Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

They were asked to take another street instead. But the students refused to obey the request and decided to pass through.

A few minutes later, another group of some 50 students on a Metro mini public bus arrived at the scene. They started to berate the officers and threw packets of rice at them. But other students managed to calm them down.

Following a massive wave of antigovernment protests, the May 12, 1998 fatal shooting at Trisakti University which later sparked bloody riots, the burning and looting of houses, shops and business centers by mobs across the capital, Soeharto, who abruptly ended a tour of the Middle East, announced his resignation on May 21, 1998.

His resignation on that historic Thursday morning instantly sparked euphoria among student protesters and reform movement activists across the country.

As of Saturday, there were rumors that anti-Soeharto protesters would take to major streets in the capital on Sunday to commemorate his downfall from 32 years of iron-fisted rule.

But Mariole, from Jarkot, which also groups the protesting group Forkot, insisted that its members would not take to the streets for a rally on Sunday.

"We'll probably organize the rally either for Monday or Tuesday. We will take a rest on Sunday," he told The Jakarta Post by phone.

"Besides, it won't be effective to stage a rally on Sunday," he added.

Separately, National Police chief Lt. Gen. Rusdihardjo said that his officers had received a tip-off about the students' plan to hold a massive rally in Jakarta on Sunday in conjunction with the second anniversary of Soeharto's downfall, particularly near the latter's Cendana residence.

But, he said, the Jakarta Police were ready to face such a rally.

"We have prepared sufficient police personnel, including those from the reserve units, to anticipate the planned demonstration on Sunday," Rusdihardjo said.

On Friday, Attorney General Marzuki said that the government would lower the official protection for Soeharto should the latter and his family refuse to cooperate and return allegedly swindled funds.

Marzuki was also quoted as saying that there was a mysterious security force that had placed resistance against the investigation by his office.

There were several rallies held in the capital on Saturday, with protesters making different demands.

One of them, held by some 150 activists of the Indonesia Semesta Front at the State Palace, called for the replacement of Cabinet ministers.

Another rally took place at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle, where hundreds of protesters gathered to air strong opposition over President Abdurrahman Wahid's plan to revoke a decree which bans communism in Indonesia. (09/nvn/bsr)