Fri, 18 May 2001

Protesters greet Gus Dur in Kendari

JAKARTA (JP): Thousands of protesters in the Southeast Sulawesi provincial capital Kendari caused a two-hour cut in electricity and telephone services on Thursday, in a show of discontent at President Abdurrahman Wahid's visit.

Security forces kept protesters about one kilometer from Wolter Monginsidi Airport as the presidential entourage touched down, Antara reported. A policeman was injured in the standoff, the news agency added.

The demonstrators, most of whom were students, then made their way to the city's main power station in a convoy of motorcycles and cars.

They forced workers their to cut the Kendari power supply for two hours.

They then proceeded to the telecommunications office and forced operators to cut long-distance and international telephone connections.

Abdurrahman, who is fighting for his political survival, was on a one-day visit to Kendari to take part in a tree planting ceremony.

The Kendari visit was originally scheduled for early last week, but the trip was canceled at the last minute without explanation. The President canceled two other out-of-town trips last week.

In a related development, the police in Kendari announced later on Thursday that a local legislator was being questioned in connection with the vandalism of a photograph of Abdurrahman at the provincial council building earlier in the week.

The incident took place on Monday when hundreds of students occupied the council building to protest the President's planned visit to Kendari.

The students removed the President's photograph from the wall and allegedly forced provincial council deputy speaker Andrey Jufri to burn the picture.

Andrey, who was present to attempt to calm the protesters, is a member of the National Mandate Party (PAN), Antara said.

Southeast Sulawesi Police chief Brig. Gen. Djumain Arief was quoted by the news agency as saying on Thursday that the protests had been "forgiven" by the President.

Sulawesi is a stronghold of the Golkar Party.

The House of Representatives has censured the President twice this year, opening the way for his possible impeachment at a special session of the People's Consultative Assembly.

Accompanying the President on Thursday were First Lady Sinta Nuriyah Abdurrahman, State Minister of Forestry Marzuki Usman and Southeast Sulawesi Governor La Ode Kaimoeddin. (byg) Photo on Page 2