Fri, 16 Jun 2000

President delays Australian visit

NEW YORK (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid has again decided to delay his plan to visit Australia following mounting domestic opposition.

The President was quoted as saying by foreign minister Alwi Shihab on Tuesday that the Australian trip had been rescheduled until after the general session of the People's Consultative Assembly to be held from Aug. 5 through Aug. 12.

This is the second postponement of the President's visit to Australia; the first was planned for May. Abdurrahman, better known as Gus Dur, reiterated his desire to make a trip to Australia during his meeting with Australian prime minister John Howard in Tokyo last week.

Alwi said the delay was meant to respect aspirations from some quarters, including House of Representatives' legislators, who did not agree with the plan.

"Gus Dur needs to accommodate their aspirations," he said on the sidelines of the President's meeting with UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan in New York.

Abdurrahman had said he planned to hold a three-day meeting between himself, Howard and East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao in July.

The President noted that the planned visit to Australia -- which would have been the first by an Indonesian president to Canberra in 25 years -- had drawn much criticism and opposition at home.

He said Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri had expressed her disagreement over the planned visit during a Cabinet meeting.

House of Representatives Speaker Akbar Tandjung has also called on the President to postpone the Australian trip.

Abdurrahman lashed out on Tuesday at the criticism, saying it was based on "narrow nationalism". He added, however, that in an effort to minimize the domestic problems related to the visit, he had decided to postpone it.

Indonesia's relations with Australia became strained following resentment over Australia's prominent role in the breakaway of East Timor from Indonesia last year. (byg/jun)