Thu, 27 Apr 2000

Sulawesi students stage rally, renew demand for independence

MAKASSAR, South Sulawesi (JP): Street rallies by disgruntled students protesting the dismissal of Minister of Industry and Trade Yusuf Kalla here started Wednesday off with a renewed threat to break away from the republic.

The students who claimed to represent 45 Makassar University and Indonesian Muslim University, blocked Jl. Urip Sumohardjo and demanded clarification on the removal of Kalla, who comes from Makassar.

"We want the government to be transparent or else we demand a free Sulawesi," Rustam, one of the students, said. "The ousting of Kalla could imply the rejection of the South Sulawesi people from the government and this hurts us."

He acknowledged that the President had the prerogative to sack Kalla and State Minister of Investment and State Enterprises Laksamana Sukardi.

"But the way the President dismissed them should not have evoked hatred among people. We, the Sulawesi people, are ready to break away from the Republic of Indonesia if our representatives are not treated properly," he said.

Soon after B.J. Habibie dropped his presidential bid last year, Makassar students held rowdy demonstrations demanding independence for Sulawesi. Many speculated that the rallies were orchestrated by South Sulawesi figures living in Jakarta.

The clamoring for independence was mitigated when South Sulawesi businessman Kalla was appointed minister.

South Sulawesi governor HZB Palaguna and speaker of provincial legislative council Amin Syam said on Wednesday that they could understand the students' disappointment over Kalla's dismissal.

"We saw no acceptable reasons to axe Kalla, who is a noted figure in the province," said Palaguna.

Amin said that the President had acted arbitrarily.

"Gus Dur should have remained transparent and behind the scenes," Amin said. (27/sur)