Sat, 08 Apr 2000

New wave of protests target plan on communism

JAKARTA (JP): The capital witnessed the second consecutive massive street rallies by thousands of Muslim youths on Friday to protest President Abdurrahman Wahid's plans to revoke the ban on communism in the country and to resume trade ties with Israel.

Some 5,000 protesters, belonging to the Indonesian Islamic Front (FUII) and claiming to represent teachers, preachers, students and other elements of the Islamic community from the greater Jakarta area, took to the city's streets demanding that President Abdurrahman cancel his controversial plans to abolish the decree of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) that bans the spread of communist ideology in the country.

A similar wave of at least 2,000 protesters from different groups also hit Jakarta streets a day earlier with the same demands.

MPR decree No XXV/1966 was issued following the abortive communist coup in 1965, known locally as the G-30-S movement.

The protesters, dressed in Islamic garments, staged a rally at Merdeka Palace after attending Friday prayer at nearby Istiqlal Grand Mosque.

Along the way, the protesters chanted their demands, rejecting the return of communism which advocates atheism. They also denounced Zionism which Mohammad Haike, one of the coordinators of the protest, said was the root of communism.

The demonstrators burned an Israeli flag in front of the palace as a reflection of their opposition to Zionism.

Haike said seven protesters were received by palace security chief Brig. Gen. Aritonang who promised to deliver their message to the President after he returned from his trip to Central Java.

Another FUII spokesman, Bernardus Dony Abdul Jabar, said they would stage another street protest in a week's time if the President did not back down on his plan.

"We will go to the MPR/DPR (House of Representatives) compound to make sure that our voice is heard and the plan to revoke the decree is canceled," Jabar said.

Jabar explained that there had been indications of a communist revival in Indonesia. "There is no way that communism could make a comeback in Indonesia," he said, alleging that "some advisers to Gus Dur have leftist tendencies" and mentioning the fact that the President refused to spend much time with members of a group calling for a jihad in Maluku on Thursday.

After an oration in front of the palace, the protesters marched to the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle -- a landmark for street gatherings for protesters and political campaigners -- where two of them climbed the Welcome statue and burned a red flag bearing the famous communist "sickle and hammer" symbol.

Jabar said he was optimistic that the demand would be supported by Amien Rais, the MPR speaker, and other major political parties such as the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the Islamic-based parties.

In North Sumatra's provincial capital of Medan, about 500 people went to the local City Council to voice similar aspirations. The was a combination of 300 FUII members and 200 university students.

They deplored Gus Dur's policy and plan to lift the ban on communism and to set up trade ties with Israel. The students, in particular, demanded that Gus Dur resign from office if he dug his heels in.

Meanwhile, Mochtar Pabottingi and Dewi Fortuna Anwar, both political observers from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said the government should wait for about five years to revoke the decree in order to calm the tense political situation.

Mochtar said many sides had attacked the government's proposal and had made known their disappointment about the absence of the government's serious actions in handling the numerous problems the nation was facing.

"If the political and economic conditions are conducive, the people will listen to the government's reasons behind its proposal," he said.

Dewi Fortuna said the decree's revocation should be postponed because the majority of the people were still disturbed by the 1965 abortive coup by the banned Indonesian communist party (PKI) and that many communist figures who were involved in the coup were still alive.

Mochtar and Dewi Fortuna said the government should leave it to the people to decide whether they followed communism or not because it was their right to do so. (06/39/rms)