Thu, 09 Nov 2000

Political rifts over Gus Dur's record continue

AKARTA (JP): Political rifts over the performance of President Abdurrahman, also known as Gus Dur, continued on Wednesday as staunch supporters of the President and his critics demonstrated separately in Makassar, Jakarta and Surabaya.

In the South Sulawesi capital of Makassar, hundreds of members of the Association of Islamic Students (HMI) took to the street demanding that the President step down. The students also criticized the President's followers for their "barbaric" action of attacking the HMI secretariat HMI in Surabaya, and intimidating members in Malang in East Java and Bandung.

The demonstration started at about 11 a.m. at the HMI secretariat with students pouring water over a bier bearing the words "Gus Dur must step down".

Embang Syasyadin, the chairman of HMI Makassar, said the President should have asked his grassroots-level supporters to avoid any rebellious actions against those who have a different political vision from Nahdlatul Ulama.

Another student, Muzakkar, said in his oration that the President's supporters should take (political) differences as God's mercy. "The President should have explained this to his supporters."

The demonstrators also urged the police to take legal action against those attacking the HMI secretariat in Surabaya.

In Jakarta the central board of HMI strongly denied an allegation from the President's supporters that its activists had harassed Abdurrahman during a demonstration in front of the presidential palace last week.

"The parody was not meant to humiliate the President. It was just the youths' way of criticizing the government, and had nothing to do with politics. HMI officially refuses to apologize to the President as demanded by his supporters," Fakhruddin, the chairman of HMI central board, told a news conference at HMI headquarters on Jl. Diponegoro on Wednesday.

During the demonstration, HMI activists performed a satirical act criticizing Abdurrahman's poor performance.

Fakhruddin referred to what he called "terror" conducted by a group of youths named Garda Bangsa on HMI activists in Cipatat, Bandung, for "improper" acts by HMI activists during the protest in Jakarta.

He also criticized Garda Bangsa's intimidation in Surabaya, when its members occupied HMI's secretariat in Surabaya last Thursday. "Abdurrahman has failed to promote democracy as his supporters have intimidated and terrorized other groups who disagree with his policy."

Separately, the secretary-general of the National Awakening Party (PKB), Muhaimmin Iskandar, said HMI's refusal to apologize to the President was provoking a negative reaction from his supporters. Abdurrahman is the founding father of PKB.

"I see their actions were politically motivated to undermine the government," Muhaimmin said.

In Surabaya, more than 500 supporters of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) from the nearby towns of Pasuruan and Probolinggo, two of NU's strongholds in East Java, staged demonstrations against Amien Rais and Akbar Tandjung.

They demanded that Amien and Akbar quit their posts as speakers of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) and the House of Representatives (DPR).

The protesters also forced a Muhammadiyah official to sign an announcement opposing Amien Rais.

Abdurrahman Wahid had chaired NU for 15 years before he was elected President last year.

The dispute between the "Islamic groups" started after Abdurrahman's followers were upset by criticism launched by People's Consultative Assembly Speaker Amien Rais, who was a chairman of another large Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah.

Like the Makassar students, the Surabaya protesters carried three biers, each bearing the name of Amien Rais, Akbar Tandjung and Fuad Bawazier, an alleged crony of former president Soeharto, who is now an official in Amien Rais' National Mandate Party (PAN).

The demonstrators carried the three biers in a solemn manner as if they were proceeding to the cemetery.

Other protesters waved large banners reading Innalillahi wainna illahiraji'un (an Islamic expression of condolence), Telah Berpulang ke Rahmatullah (Rest in Peace) Amien Rais, Akbar Tandjung and Fuad Bawazier. (02/27/nur/sur)