Fri, 23 Feb 2001

President Abdurrahman embarks on overseas trip

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid began his overseas trip on Thursday with confidence that everything would be alright during his two-week journey abroad.

"No, there will be no problems because Ibu Mega is here," the President told journalists while referring to Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri by her nickname.

He expressed hope that people would remain calm and nothing untoward would happen while he is away.

Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab, Minister of Defense Mahfud MD and Minister of National Education Yahya Muhaimin, were among the 85 strong President's entourage leaving for Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Egypt, Nigeria and finally Saudi Arabia to perform the haj pilgrimage.

The President, popularly known as Gus Dur, is scheduled to return to Jakarta on March 7.

Megawati along with several ministers saw him off at the Halim Perdanakusuma Airport in East Jakarta.

Mahfud however, predicted that some groups would opportunistically seek to worsen the country's condition while the President is away.

"I am sure there will be people who will try to stir things up, maybe there will be elements who will try to instigate conflict between the executive and the legislature.

"But, all of this is still relatively normal, and not dangerous," Mahfud said as quoted by Agence France Presse.

Meanwhile, House of Representatives (DPR) Speaker Akbar Tandjung played down the possibility of a military coup.

"The President held coordinative meetings with the military top brass before his departure. And I think it's normal for the President to do so before leaving the country," Akbar told journalists on Thursday.

"There will be no military coup. I really don't think that will happen," he said.

An hour before the President departed, some 100 students opposing Abdurrahman demonstrated near the airport.

Earlier in the morning, some 2,000 protesters of the University of Indonesia's Executive Body (BEM-UI) staged a demonstration in opposition to the government near the presidential palace.

Wearing yellow jackets, the students staged a free speech forum just some 300 meters from the presidential palace, carrying banners and pamphlets, that read: Selamat jalan Gus, Jangan kembali lagi (Goodbye Gus, don't come back), Gus Dur keluyuran, rakyat terlantar (Gus Dur travels overseas, and abandons his people) and Gus Dur cuek keadaan dalam negeri (Gus Dur ignores the situation at home).

The President flew in a helicopter to the airport to avoid the demonstration.

A similar protest in opposition to the President was held in the Makassar capital of South Sulawesi on Thursday. Hundreds of protesters grouped under the Alliance of Tamalanrea Student Boarding House (KMPT) paraded to the local provincial council to air their demand for the President's resignation.

Meanwhile, a protest over a different issue was held in Yogyakarta on Thursday, with student protesters calling for the cleansing of supporters and elements of the New Order regime from the current government.

In a separate development, chairman of the Supreme Advisory Council (DPA) Achmad Tirtosudiro said on Thursday that all advice given to the President has been issued in line with the Constitution and based on positive judgment.

"We have the right to give counsel whether being asked to or not. The DPA just don't want Gus Dur to meet a similar fate to the country's previous three presidents -- Sukarno, Soeharto and Habibie," Achmad said in Bandung.

Basically the DPA don't want President Abdurrahman to end his presidential term in disgrace, he said.

"It's good if the President can answer well to the House's memorandum. But if he fails, we have to review the options, don't we?" Achmad said, referring to the idea of Abdurrahman being the head of state and Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri in charge of state administration.

"Anyway, we have to get used to Gus Dur's rhetorical style. We mustn't take it personally and we have to accept it in a cool- headed way," Achmad said. (23/25/dja/edt/rms)