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Indonesia’s Wahid prepares for showdown with rivals

Legislators threaten to call special session

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JAKARTA — Embattled Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid and his political foes prepared for a showdown on Friday as the head of Indonesia's top legislature said time had run out for a political compromise.

Hundreds of riot police on Thursday guarded the parliament complex where the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) is set to hold a snap impeachment session if Wahid carries out his threat to declare a state of emergency and call early elections.

"I don't think that any compromise still has a chance, it is too late right now," MPR speaker and Wahid ally-turned-chief-foe Amien Rais told Reuters Television in an interview on Thursday. "He is counting the days."

The assembly, which elected Wahid president of the world's most populous Muslim nation 21 months ago, is scheduled to convene from August 1 to consider sacking him over his chaotic rule.

But Rais, an architect of Wahid's surprise rise to power, and other assembly leaders have warned they would call a special session on Friday night if Wahid declared a state of emergency by his self-imposed 6:00 p.m. deadline.

Police said they were ready to dispatch about 6,000 men to guard the parliamentary complex if the 700-seat MPR gathers on Friday. The MPR includes parliament's 500 members and another 200 regional and community representatives.

Wahid's party controls only 10 percent of the assembly and the parliament. The ailing Muslim cleric is almost certain to fall whenever the MPR does consider impeachment.

Security forces have drawn up evacuation plans for MPR members and foreign diplomats if violence erupts.

"In regards to the places of the evacuation and the details, I only told this to the ambassadors," Jakarta police chief Inspector General Sofjan Jacoeb told reporters after a meeting with 75 ambassadors.

Wahid on Wednesday vowed to go ahead with a state of emergency and early election, but said the state of emergency would only come into force on July 31 to give him more time to stave off his ouster.

His aides have been trying to strike a last-minute deal with opposition parties this week.

Rais told Reuters the MPR would still hold a special session on Friday if Wahid carried out his threat—even if there was a delay in implementing an emergency.

"As we did promise, if he goes ahead with a threat to issue a decree on emergency or decree to dissolve the assembly, a few hours after that we will hold a special session to impeach him," Rais said.


Wahid's estranged deputy Megawati Sukarnoputri would take over to serve out his term to 2004.

Megawati leads the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), Indonesia's largest party and a backer of impeachment.

Rais, once a political enemy of Megawati, said the daughter of Indonesia's founding father Sukarno would "make a better president than Wahid."

"I met with her a couple of times and it seems to me that she is ready and now it seems too that she becomes much wiser and much more realistic," he said. "Probably after being 20 months as vice president, she has taken a lot of lessons."

Megawati has largely distanced herself from the political storm and said little about Wahid's fate, worrying some politicians who have called on her to be more involved and outline a clear vision for running the giant archipelago.

Indonesia's stock market has shown its disdain for Wahid's threats, extending its gains on Thursday.

The Jakarta composite index closed 2.2 percent higher at 463.26. The rupiah has been fairly stable in recent weeks. It was quoted at 11,244/11,254 to the dollar at 1030 GMT.

"It seems that the decree (on a state of emergency) will not be issued. There is no support for that," Suhendra Setiadi, a dealer at Trimegah Securities, told Reuters.

Even if Wahid carries out his emergency threat, the Muslim cleric is unlikely to have enough support in the military, the police and the civil service to make it stick. Key army and police generals have already rejected any state of emergency.

Lieutenant-General Agus Widjojo, who heads the military's political operations, said the armed forces would not act outside the law to solve the crisis.

"It will be easier and functional for the Indonesian defence force if the political process... could make the political decision," he told CNN on Thursday. "Any actions that are expected of the military should be based (on) the consent of the people and through constitutional arrangements."

Wahid has the support of millions of members of a major Muslim group which he once headed, although they have had little impact apart from in his political heartland of East Java province. Some have pledged to lay down their lives for him.