Indonesian Police Fire Warning Shots At Pro-Wahid Protestors
Indonesian police fired warning shots Thursday to disperse thousands of rowdy supporters of President Abdurrahman Wahid as the embattled leader said he would visit the province to try to calm his loyalists.
Police fired blanks when the crowd in the East Java town of Lamongan tried to break into the local office of the former ruling Golkar party and hurled rocks at the building, police Chief Commissioner Sudarsono said.
"Two policemen were slightly injured and 21 civilians," Sudarsono said, adding all 23 had been taken to hospital.
He said the policemen were hurt by stones hurled by the protestors and the others were injured in clashes with police, or trampled when they were fleeing the warning shots.
Lamongan is 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of the provincial capital of Surabaya, the country's second largest city.
"Police fired point blank," Sudarsono told AFP.
Another police officer in Surabaya estimated the number of protestors at 10,000, adding they had earlier been heading towards the district council building.
An AFP photographer said the windows of the Lamongan Golkar office were smashed, and it was ringed by some 100 police.
It was the second time in two days that police had been forced to open fire on Wahid's supporters in his East Java stronghold.
The loyalists, most of them members of the 40-million-strong Muslim Nahdlatul Ulama organization that Wahid once headed, have been angered over moves in the national parliament in Jakarta to unseat the president.
It was the sixth consecutive days of rallies by Wahid supporters. The rallies erupted into violence and arson on Wednesday and Tuesday, with protestors burning the Golkar offices and attacking journalists.
Golkar was one of the factions in the parliament that advocated a censure motion against Wahid last week for his alleged involvement in two corruption scandals totaling almost six million dollars.
In Jakarta Wahid's spokesman said the president would visit the coastal town of Pasuruan, 60 kilometers (37 miles) southeast of Surabaya, on Friday.
"The president and his entourage will be leaving for Pasuruan on Friday. Pasuruan is a good choice because it's the base of support for (Wahid)," presidential spokesman Wimar Witoelar said.
"He wants to meet people who are honestly in support for him. He wants to make sure that his followers are conducting things in peaceful manner," Witoelar added.
MPs in Jakarta have been trying to force an emergency session of the national assembly to impeach Wahid, the country's first democratically-elected leader
Under the constitution, Wahid must be given up to four months to respond to a censure memorandum issued by the parliament last week, before a special impeachment session can be convened.
Yasril Ananta Baharuddin, the head of parliament's commission on foreign affairs and defense, urged Wahid to make an unequivocal statement to call off his supporters.
"We're asking the president because it's his supporters who are rioting and creating anarchy. They (the government) are the string-pullers of the riots, so they must take responsibility, because this can spread beyond East Java," Baharuddin told AFP.
"If the police cannot control the situation, they must bring the military in," he added.
A defiant Wahid on Wednesday called the violence a lesson in democracy and shrugged off growing efforts by the national parliament to unseat him as "fruitless."
"This is the price we have to pay for the continuing process of democracy," he said -- LAMONGAN, Indonesia (AFP)
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