- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2001

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The legislature assembled today to impeach President Abdurrahman Wahid, pledging to act within hours to remove the nearly blind leader in defiance of his last-ditch attempt to impose a virtual state of emergency and "freeze" the chamber before it could act.
Mr . Wahid said through a spokesman he would refuse to step down even if he was impeached, raising the prospect of a constitutional crisis. However, the military had already made clear it would not act to protect the embattled president.
Legislators, with the full backing of the military bloc in the People's Consultative Assembly, opened today's session with an overwhelming vote to disregard the order from Mr. Wahid, which followed a day of high drama with bomb blasts and dozens of armored vehicles gathering in front of the presidential palace.
The assembly acted after an official read a ruling from the nation's Supreme Court declaring Mr. Wahid's attempt to impose a state of emergency and order new elections was unconstitutional.
Speaking hours after Mr. Wahid's 1 a.m. order was issued, assembly Chairman Amien Rais declared that Mr. Wahid would be ousted, probably sometime today, ending a tumultuous 21-month administration.
"It is a foregone conclusion that Mr. Wahid will be dismissed," he was quoted as saying. Mr. Wahid was expected to be replaced by his vice president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, whose party today labeled the president's early morning declaration as "treason."
Jakarta Police Chief Maj. Gen. Sofyan Jacob earlier told the Associated Press that the security forces would defy Mr. Wahid's orders for them to stop his impeachment.
Senior military officers had already declared in recent days they would not enforce a declaration of a state of emergency. At least two Cabinet members quit in protest at this morning's order.
Tensions rose as some 300 supporters of Mr. Wahid arrived in the capital by train from Surabaya, the capital of Mr. Wahid's political stronghold and home province of East Java.
Yesterday afternoon, up to 100 tracked and wheeled armored vehicles from the marines and Indonesia's main combat force, Kostrad, encircled the towering National Monument across from the palace. They left this morning for an undisclosed location.
Officers denied the maneuver was a threat to the enigmatic Mr. Wahid. They said they only wanted to show that the armed forces were united.
"If it's Megawati or Gus Dur, we don't care," said Maj. Yunus, a navy officer who like many Indonesians uses one name. Gus Dur is a popular nickname for Mr. Wahid.
Despite the claim of military unity, at least some members of the armed forces are believed to back the president.
The police, meanwhile, have been dangerously divided over the refusal of the national police chief, Surojo Bimantoro, to relinquish command after Mr. Wahid suspended him on June 1.
In his decree this morning, Mr. Wahid ordered elections within a year — well ahead of the scheduled poll and the end of his mandate in 2004 — and "froze" Golkar, the party that backed former strongman Suharto and that is now the second-largest party in the chamber.
"This special session violates the constitution," the president told reporters inside his palace last night while hundreds of soldiers shouted rallying cries in the city's main park across the street.
"This People's Consultative Assembly session must be viewed as illegal and invalid," he said.
Despite the military's insistence that it is not engaging in politics, the 38-member military and police faction in parliament voted on Saturday and again today with the overwhelming majority of legislators who seek Mr. Wahid's immediate ouster.
Reports here say city officials have placed 42,000 police and military personnel on alert to guard against trouble during the hearing. But the security forces were unable to prevent the bombing of two churches, one Catholic and one Protestant, yesterday morning.
The Satunet internet news service last night reported that 72 persons were wounded at the Catholic church, where a bomb exploded during early Mass. Christians are a tiny minority in this majority Muslim nation, the world's fourth-largest.
In Hanoi, Southeast Asian foreign ministers said today they were closely watching the political turmoil in Indonesia as they opened annual talks, but said they would stay out of the mounting troubles in the region's biggest country.
For months, legislators have been pushing for Mr. Wahid's ouster, first by accusing him of involvement in two financial scandals, and then by broadening their complaints to include his handling of Indonesia's economic crisis and threats to national unity.
The dispute between the president and the legislature stems partly from their differing interpretations of Indonesia's vaguely worded constitution.
After legislators ruled he had failed to respond adequately to two memorandums of censure, they voted to convene the session.
Mrs. Sukarnoputri, daughter of the nation's founding leader and former president, Sukarno, rarely speaks in public, but in a potent symbol of the aligning political forces, local television last night showed her walking side by side with anti-Wahid party leaders who had met at her house.
Mrs. Sukarnoputri's father, Sukarno, was dumped as president after he was impeached by the assembly amid political turmoil in 1966 and died in 1970 under house arrest. He was replaced by the dictator Suharto, who ruled until 1998.

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