Sat, 04 Nov 2000

Gus Dur deplores violent reaction to resignation calls

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid on Friday blasted the violent nature in which those who support him have reacted in response to calls for his resignation.

The President appealed to his supporters to remain calm despite the criticism against him.

Speaking after Friday prayers in Ciganjur, South Jakarta, Abdurrahman called on his supporters to exercise restraint and said that mounting criticism against the government was only "part of democracy".

"Just because I am under attack, people in Pasuruan think that they can stop cars, burn tires on the streets and occupy the HMI (Islamic Students Association) office in Surabaya.

"And then you can still call yourself a Muslim after all these acts... therefore I call on (my supporters) not to resort to violence. Let them criticize me because that is actually part of democracy," Abdurrahman said.

He also called on Muslim clerics "to stay out of politics".

"Politics is beyond the authority of our clerics... so they should not bother thinking about politics," Gus Dur, as the President is called, said.

Tension between Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which was chaired by Abdurrahman before last year's presidential election, and Muhammadiyah, the second largest Muslim organization led by the President's staunchest critic and People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) chairman Amien Rais, heightened earlier this week when thousands of Abdurrahman supporters threatened their rivals with violence if Amien continued to seek to unseat the President in mid-term.

Amien has been at the forefront of calls by some politicians to demand Abdurrahman resignation because of alleged incompetence and corruption.

Abdurrahman's critics claim he has failed to revive the economy or tackle violent separatist conflicts.

Critics stepped up their attacks this week, accusing the President of corruption and demanding a special Assembly session to oust him.

However Abdurrahman again dared lawmakers on Friday to vote on whether to call a special session if they thought he committed impeachable offenses.

"If what they (legislators) said is true, the DPR (House of Representatives) can convene to vote on whether it is necessary to hold a special session," Abdurrahman said.

"I have an obligation to serve the nation, not one or two people," Abdurrahman said, referring to critics who have called for his resignation.

He said the country had achieved significant progress under his leadership.

He described his rejection of a clemency appeal by former president Soeharto's youngest son Hutomo Mandala Putra over an 18-month jail verdict for corruption as one of his successes in upholding the law.

Meanwhile, Muhammadiyah executive Djoko Susilo regretted the "overreaction" on the part of Abdurrahman supporters in East Java earlier this week.

He deplored that fact that an unnamed NU leader in East Java had issued a statement that Amien had been "advised" against traveling to the province, which is known as the stronghold of Abdurrahman's supporters.

"We also condemn a decree issued by a certain people stipulating that the spilling of Amien Rais' blood is just," Djoko told journalists.

"We appeal to all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from making any statement that could provoke further tension," he added.

In the West Sumatra capital of Padang, Muhammadiyah chairman Syafii Maarif dismissed suggestions that there was a growing conflict between his organization and NU.

"If between Amien Rais and Gus Dur there is an exchange of verbal attacks, that should not be seen as conflict between Muhammadiyah and NU but it is a dispute between individuals," Syafii said.

Later in the day here, chairman of the National Awakening Party (PKB) Matori Abdul Djalil also called on the political elite to refrain from making statements which could heighten tension at the grassroots level.


In Surabaya, East Java, tensions remained high as some 500 members of NU's security guards, Banser, began paramilitary-like training on Friday in what they described as preparation to help security officers deal with possible unrest.

Masduki Toha, chairman of Surabaya Banser said that the training was part of the organization's program, "not because NU members are threatened".

Masduki also said that the military training was not directly linked to the possibility that Abdurrahman would be forced to resign.

Abdurrahman chaired NU for 15 years, and most NU members, including members of Banser, continue to be staunch supporters of him.

"The training program is firstly aimed at creating cadres who are ready to help the security officers in Surabaya. National tasks will depend on orders from NU headquarters," said Masduki.

The three-day basic training was being held in Mojokerto, some 50 kilometers west of Surabaya.

"It is the second batch. The first batch also involved 500 personnel," he said.

He said that the instructors included members of Indonesian Marines and kyais (Muslim clerics). He declined to reveal the names of the instructors.

Before leaving for the training ground the Banser members demonstrated their skill in using swords and knives. (nur/sur/28/45/byg/jun)