Sat, 25 Mar 2000

President backs greater Naval stronghold

MAKASSAR, South Sulawesi (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid, whose 5-hour visit here on Friday was marred by student protests, said that he supported the Indonesian Military's (TNI) plan to increase the number of naval bases throughout the country.

Abdurrahman said a stronger Navy would ensure better protection for the country's territorial integrity.

In his address to about 1,400 participants of the congress of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Sons and Daughters, the President pointed out that Indonesia, at all costs, including the enlargement of its Naval capacity, would maintain its sovereignty.

However, due to financial constraints, for the short-term the government would only be able to build new bases in Sorong, Irian Jaya, Sumatra and Java, he said.

"Ideally, each large province must have its own marine development center," the President said.

Referring to the country's archipelagic geographic condition and its abundant sea resources, the President has vowed to boost the Navy's role since his election as the country's president in October.

Breaking with 34 years of tradition, he appointed a non-Army officer, Adm. Widodo A.S., as military chief. He also established the Ministry of Maritime Exploration.

The Navy has six large bases: in Belawan, North Sumatra; Tanjung Priok, Jakarta; Teluk Rantai, Lampung; Ujung in Surabaya, Makassar, and Jayapura, Irian Jaya.

"I even said during a recent meeting with marines that if the three bases were still not enough we could expand more, in line with our budgetary capacity," the President noted.

During his trip to Makassar, Abdurrahman was accompanied by acting Coordinating Minister for Political Affairs and Security Lt. Gen. (ret.) Surjadi Soedirdja, Minister of Religious Affairs Tolchah Hasan and First Lady Sinta Nuriyah.

He arrived in Makassar on Friday morning. This was the second visit for the President after his first visit in December.

Makassar is traditionally known as the stronghold of former president B.J. Habibie, who was born in the province.


The most conspicuous event of Abdurrahman's visit was the mass student demonstration which greeted him.

The Presidential entourage was forced to seek an alternative route from the airport to the congress venue as dozens of students, mostly claiming to be from Makassar University, blocked the main routes of Jl. Sudirman and Jl. Urip Sumohardjo.

The students demanded the government cancel its plan to raise fuel oil prices and electricity rates. They also insisted the government repeal its plan to stop subsidies for university students.

"Gus Dur must listen to the suffering of ordinary people and not just depend on wealthy whisperers around him," said protest coordinator Iswari Alfarizi, referring to the President by his popular name.

The noisy protest also forced the President to cancel his plan to hold a public dialog with congress participants and Makassar residents after Friday prayers.

As the President made his way back to the airport at about 3 p.m., hundreds of Indonesian Muslim University (UMI) students tried to block the route. The students burned tires and clashed with police who blocked attempts to reach the President.

"We did not allow the students to approach the President because they did not inform us about their plan beforehand," Makassar Police chief Col. Aryanto Boedihardjo said.

There were no reports of causalities, however, police have detained two students.

From Makassar, Abdurrahman flew to Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, to open a congress of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI).

In an apparent reaction to a lawsuit filed by outgoing Antara news agency chief Parni Hadi against him, the President alleged that Parni was "dominating the (state) news agency and trying to turn Antara into his private company."

"He (Parni) said he wants to bring me to the state administrative court. Feel free, because one of the tasks of the president is to appoint officials," the President said, as quoted by AFP.

Parni filed his lawsuit at the Jakarta Administrative Court on Friday, demanding the President pay him Rp 1 trillion for the a "baseless" Presidential decision to replace him with Mohammad Sobary on March 17.

Meanwhile, Sobary paid a courtesy call to Parni at his office at Wisma Antara on Jl. Merdeka Selatan, Central Jakarta.

Riding an ojek (motorcycle taxi) and wearing a T-shirt and black jacket, he arrived at the news agency's office without receiving much attention.

After his meeting with Parni, Sobary left the office and turned down the request of news agency employees to visit their office.

"Please wait until a formal occasion," he responded.

Apart from his position as editor and general manager of the news agency, Parni is also the general manager of Republika. (27/prb/edt)