Indonesian police fire tear gas against protesters

JAKARTA, Indonesia, AP

Supporters and opponents of Indonesia’s head of state staged rival protests for a second day in the capital on Tuesday when police fired tear gas and beat students who threw rocks and gasoline bombs.

Officers assaulted and threatened reporters and news crews covering a clash outside the office of a political party that wants to push President Abdurrahman Wahid from power over a range of crises and scandals.

“Our nation is falling apart economically and security-wise,” said Amien Rais, the chairman of Indonesia’s top legislative body and one of Wahid’s harshest critics.

Many lawmakers want to impeach him. The political turmoil has sent the stock market into sharp fall and the central bank has been forced to intervene repeatedly to prop up the battered currency.

Wahid canceled all official appointments on Tuesday. Aides said he was resting, but denied that the 61-year-old leader, who is almost blind and has suffered several strokes, had been physically taxed by the ongoing threat to his 17-month-old presidency.

Violence erupted at the Jakarta headquarters of the Golkar Party, the former ruling political organization of ex-dictator Suharto who was ousted by student protests and riots in 1998. Golkar is now one of several campaigning for Wahid’s removal.

At least five badly beaten protesters were arrested in the melee. Some officers charged the crowd on motorcycles and ran over protesters who lit bonfires.

Earlier, about 1,500 demonstrators gathered outside the presidential palace carrying banners pledging their allegiance to Wahid.

On Monday, about 12,000 anti-Wahid demonstrators rallied at the same spot demanding that he resign.

Pressure against Wahid has risen in recent weeks after he chose to remain on an overseas trip as more than 450 migrant settlers were slaughtered by indigenous Dayak tribesmen on the island of Borneo.

Wahid came to power in October 1999 as Indonesia’s first freely elected leader in 44 years.

However, high hopes that he would deliver democratic and economic reforms for the troubled nation failed to materialize.