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Sacked president finally accepts defeat

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Sacked President Abdurrahman Wahid found a face-saving way out of Indonesia's political crisis on Wednesday, but as he prepared to leave for a medical check-up in the United States his rivals squabbled over the spoils.

Legislators are voting to choose President Megawati Sukarnoputri's deputy, a move crucial to shaping her government as she tackles the crises paralyzing the battered nation. Friends and aides of Wahid said he had finally accepted defeat.

"He accepted the reality of history," Ruslan Abdulgani, a former foreign minister, told reporters after visiting Wahid, who was in still holed up in the Dutch-built presidential palace, behind razor-wire barricades.

"He (Wahid) said he hoped Megawati succeeded in returning the situation in a good way," Abdulgani added. Wahid aides said he would quit the palace on Thursday to head for the United States.

Megawati, under pressure to name a new cabinet, traveled to Wahid's volatile political heartland to visit the grave of her father, the still-idolized founding president, Sukarno.

But just 48 hours after showing unprecedented unity to dump Wahid, Indonesia's swarm of political parties were divided on the way forward in the world's most populous Muslim country.

The selection of vice president will be important to the shape and tone of Megawati's coalition government not just for the person but because it will reflect the forces and alliances she will have to factor in when she creates her cabinet.

The Muslim-based United Development Party (PPP), the third largest and crucial in harnessing Islamic support, is threatening to refuse any cabinet posts if the vice presidency goes to the rival Golkar party.

Golkar, the second largest party, is the former political vehicle of ousted autocrat Suharto and still heavily tarnished by the relationship.

The vote in the top assembly went into a second round on Wednesday evening after no candidate won a majority.

The head of the PPP, Hamzah Haz, was leading the race, followed by Akbar Tandjung of Golkar and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a retired general and ex-chief security minister.

Around 500 students protested at parliament over Tandjung's candidacy because of his links to Suharto, who quit amid social and political chaos in 1998.

With Wahid completely isolated and no sign of his supporters taking to the streets, the violence many feared across the nation has so far not broken out — not even in East Java, where some of Wahid's supporters had vowed to die for him. Powerful Islamic leaders there appealed for calm.

In several East Java cities, about the only response seen from Wahid's supporters has been the lowering of national flags to half-mast—following calls for restraint from religious leaders and threats from the military to crack down on chaos.

Against a backdrop of doubts about her leadership capabilities, analysts have urged the taciturn Megawati to announce a cabinet quickly and begin the herculean task of dragging the world's fourth most populous nation out of crisis.

No precise timeframe has been set for naming the cabinet but it is expected within days.

Strong gains in the rupiah currency since Wahid's sacking by the country's top legislature for incompetence will count for nothing unless a credible cabinet takes office and the political bickering that has held Indonesia hostage for months fades.

Stocks closed down 2.25 percent and the rupiah hovered around 9,900 to the dollar, compared with 11,200 before Wahid's sacking.

The World Bank said it was confident Indonesia would prosper under Megawati but urged her to push ahead with "urgently needed" economic reforms.

"I am confident that Indonesia will prosper under President Megawati's leadership. We look forward to working with the new economic team as they develop a roadmap for Indonesia's recovery," World Bank chief James Wolfensohn said in a statement.