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Wahid leaves palace, heads for Baltimore

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia's ousted president, Abdurrahman Wahid, left the palace and the country Thursday after days of refusing to step aside, ending a standoff and clearing the way for his successor.

Heading to Baltimore for medical treatment, the 61-year-old deposed leader vowed to return to push for democracy in what he warns will be a more authoritarian nation under his succeessor, Megawati Sukarnoputri.

About 2,000 flag-waving supporters greeted Wahid with chants of "Gus! Gus!" — his nickname — as he emerged from the white-columned presidential mansion. His motorcade drove a short distance to a nearby park, where he addressed the crowd.

"I will return to struggle to uphold democracy and morality," he said to wild cheers.

Wahid then headed to the airport and left for the United States, accompanied by five doctors and about a dozen family members. Wahid is to undergo medical treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Wahid had refused to leave the palace since the national assembly sacked him Monday for alleged imcompetence and corruption and named his deputy, Megawati, to succeed him.

He insisted his removal was illegal, but finally relented Wednesday — apparently recognizing that he no longer had the support of the armed forces, Parliament or the judiciary.

In farewell interviews with The Associated Press and other news media, Wahid warned that under Megawati, Indonesia will return to a more authoritative rule, controlled by the military and forces of corruption.

Wahid, who during his term had pushed to reduce the military's influence, said he will be one of the few voices for democracy. "I am painting a gloomy picture," he said in his office in the presidential palace.

He said his opponents were trying to roll back his reforms and revert to the "status quo" — referring to Suharto's brutal 32-year dictatorship, which ended with his ouster in 1998 amid pro-democracy protests and riots.

He said he had refused an offer by Megawati to see him off at the airport.

Wahid — who is nearly blind after suffering two strokes in recent years — said his doctors had recommended that he seek medical treatment abroad for his high blood pressure, which has been worsened by stress.

His departure came just hours after the legislature elected a conservative Muslim politician, Hamzah Haz, as the new vice president.

The balloting for vice president, which lasted 12 hours and was spread over two days, was marred by allegations of vote buying. Haz, 61, leader of the United Development Party, resigned from Wahid's first Cabinet in November 1999 after allegations of corruption.

Indonesia's political and military elites have been jockeying for top Cabinet posts in Megawati's new government in moves raising concern about her commitment to democratic reform. Megawati, 54, is the daughter of Sukarno, Indonesia's founding president.

On Thursday, two men on motorbikes shot and killed the judge who in September sentenced Suharto's youngest son, Tommy, to 18 months in jail for corruption, police said.

Syaifuddin Kartasasita, 61, was shot five times through the window of his car as he drove to his office, said national police spokesman Maj. Gen. Didi Widayadi.

Recently, there have been indications that Megawati's administration would end the prosecutions of Suharto's three children.