Sat, 11 Sep 1999

President Habibie makes light of rumored resignation, coup

JAKARTA (JP): President B.J. Habibie laughed off on Friday rumors of his resignation, while contending that the presidency was not everything to him.

In an off-the-cuff speech at the State Palace to a group of ulema from Greater Jakarta, Habibie said he only became aware of the rumors when an ambassador from a friendly country asked him if they were true.

He said rumors of a coup apparently arose from the daily meetings he had held since Wednesday with Indonesian Military (TNI) Commander Gen. Wiranto and other top military brass.

Habibie said he decided to hold the meetings in order to gain the most accurate information available and coordinate developments in East Timor after the imposition of martial law.

"(The meetings) are normal, but people think there is something there. It's OK," he said.

Without elaborating, Habibie hinted that there could be a major decision on East Timor within two days if there was no significant improvements in the territory.

Habibie deflected criticism of his decision to hold a ballot in East Timor and said he would not forsake Indonesia for the tiny province.

"We have to be wise and prudent. If our brothers in East Timor want to separate then we have to be sensible.

"Don't forget that Indonesia, with its population of 211 million minus 700,000, less than the number of residents in Kebayoran, will remain a big country," he said. Kebayoran is a district in South Jakarta.

"So whatever is decided (by the East Timorese) is of benefit to Indonesia," he said.

Rumors of Habibie's resignation and a military takeover have been rife since Wednesday.

The rumors heightened when Wiranto, accompanied by the heads of the three branches of the military and the chief of the National Police, attended a three-hour meeting with Habibie on Wednesday.

Wiranto, also minister of defense and security, has calmly dismissed the rumors. However, after meeting with Habibie on Thursday, the general looked upset when a reporter asked him about the relationship between the military and the President.

"The government is very solid," he replied as he walked to his car. Suddenly he turned around and approached the reporter: "It is you who asked the same question yesterday."

Habibie has called for daily coordinative meetings with military brass and senior ministers for as long as martial law remains in effect in East Timor.

In a separate meeting with the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Muslim organization on Friday morning, Habibie urged people not to politicize East Timor as a tool to remove him from the presidential palace.

"I want to reiterate that the presidency is not everything to me.

"Whoever leads this country in the future, let it be decided by the People's Consultative Assembly," Habibie said.

Habibie was scheduled to meet with Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung at his private residence in Patra Kuningan, South Jakarta, on Friday evening.

Sources said Akbar wished to convey Golkar's concern over continuing world condemnation of Indonesia over the violence in East Timor.

Journalists, however, are not being allowed to cover the meeting. "This is strictly an internal (Golkar) meeting," an official said. (prb)