Fri, 24 Jan 2003

Rally in support of govt birthday present for Mega

Tiarma Siboro and Zakki Hakim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Worn out by over two weeks of boisterous antigovernment rallies, President Megawati Soekarnoputri received a special gift on her 56th birthday on Thursday as hundreds of her supporters took to the streets to pledge their allegiance to her.

Hundreds of members of the Indonesian Young Bulls (BMI), one of the youth groups affiliated to the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), staged a rally near Megawati's residence on Jl Teuku Umar in Central Jakarta.

Wearing red shirts and singing Selamat Ulang Tahun (Happy Birthday), the youths said their presence was not aimed at intimidating antigovernment groups or sparking chaos.

"Ibu has ordered us to maintain peace during the event and when we finish with this (Megawati's birthday celebration), we are going to voluntarily disperse," Dodi Makmun Murod, a House of Representatives legislator, who also chairs the BMI, said after a meeting with the President.

Separately, hundreds of other PDI Perjuangan supporters held a rally in front of the State Palace on Thursday in support of the leadership of Megawati and Vice President Hamzah Haz. They said their leadership was needed to help the country maintain stability in the political, economic and security arenas.

Waving banners reading: "Defend the Megawati-Hamzah duo until 2004, and reject the establishment of a presidium", the crowd called on all members of the political elite to fairly compete during the 2004 general election instead of attempting to establish a presidium to replace the current government.

Although the rally proceeded peacefully, hundreds of security officers were deployed to maintain order.

Rallies against the government's multiple hikes in utility and fuel prices have been hitting the capital and other major cities across the country for almost three weeks. The protests continued despite the government's decision to delay and reduce the hikes.

Separately, dozens of Islamic organizations criticized the government for its lack of a sense of crisis. They said the government should make corruption eradication its priority agenda, rather than increasing prices.

"The governnment's reluctance to push ahead with corruption cases is another crime that hurts the people," they said during a joint press conference held at the offices of the Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI) in Central Jakarta.

In a related development, six students, who are known as leaders of the Greater Jakarta Student Executive Boards (BEM), were officially named as criminal suspects by the police after staging rallies near Megawati's residence on Wednesday. The students, Rico Marbun, Fathul Nugroho and Fajar from the University of Indonesia BEM; Ardi from the Indonesian Muslim Students Action Association (KAMMI); and Sardi Effendi from the Jakarta State University were charged with violating Article 218 of the Criminal Code (KUHP), and Law No. 9/1998 on the freedom to organize and assemble.

Central Jakarta Police sent summonses to the students on Thursday morning requiring them to show up at police headquarters on Saturday morning for questioning. However, Fathul said that they would continue with their antigovernment protests until the government introduced more favorable economic policies.