Wed, 15 Jan 2003

Security concerns foil Megawati's visit to Poso

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Continuing protests and mounting pressure on the government to cancel the fuel and utility price hikes have forced President Megawati Soekarnoputri to cancel her trip to the Central Sulawesi town of Poso.

Although there was no official statement explaining the cancellation of what would have been the President's first visit to Poso since taking office in 2001, an official earlier said pressure in Jakarta on Megawati's administration was likely to disrupt her trip.

In Poso, a coordination meeting between local authorities and presidential officials was held on Tuesday to discuss the cancellation.

"The visit was called off because the government has to prepare itself for a planned consultation meeting with the House of Representatives," a spokesman for the Poso administration, Maragau, said as quoted by Antara.

Megawati has not visited Poso since sectarian clashes between Christians and Muslims broke out in 1999. The President was scheduled to attend a National Solidarity Day celebration in Poso on Wednesday.

Antigovernment rallies have taken place across the country over the past two weeks since the government increased telephone and electricity rates and fuel prices.

The South Sulawesi capital of Makassar and the Central Sulawesi capital of Palu have seen some of the largest antigovernment rallies. Almost daily, thousands of people take to the streets to protest the price increases.

On Monday, Presidential Palace officials received a security alert from demonstrators in the two provinces, who said that wild rallies would "welcome" Megawati's trip there.

"That is why we decided to cancel the trip as there are too many security risks," a presidential details official said on Tuesday. Megawati would have made a stopover in Makassar en route to Poso.

The two provinces are known as strongholds of the Golkar Party, the main threat to Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle in the 2004 elections.

An official at the State Secretary's office said Minister of Social Affairs Bachtiar Chamsyah and Minister of National Education Malik Fajar had been assigned to travel to Poso in place of Megawati.

In the capital, the President must deal with heightened pressure from leaders of the House of Representatives and People's Consultative Assembly, who have demanded consultation meetings regarding the current situation.

Although far from showing any intention of toppling her government, various politicians, activists and organizations have gathered to reinforce the opposition to Megawati.

All three coordinating ministers will fulfill the House's request for a meeting on Wednesday evening to explain the price hikes.