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5,000 Megawati supporters in stand-off with riot police

Straits Times - April 16. 1997

Susan Sim, Jakarta – Supporters of ousted opposition leader Megawati Soekarnoputri yesterday broke down the gates leading to Parliament House as they faced police in a five-hour stand-off.

Riot troops armed with tear-gas launchers, rattan canes and machine guns prevented the 5,000 demonstrators from entering the Parliament complex, located on a major road leading to the airport.

Chanting "Mega will win", the protesters, mostly youth dressed in the trademark red and black of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) and sporting pictures of the ousted leader on their shirts, demanded that she be allowed to stand in next month's general election.

They also asked to meet the Speaker of the House, but were refused.

A statement signed by 20 legislators loyal to Ms Megawati, including her husband Taufik Kiemas and brother Guruh Soekarnoputra, was later distributed to the press.

"We demand that the People's Consultative Assembly remind the government to return the political rights of the PDI people and the leadership of the PDI that was forcibly taken over unlawfully," it said, adding:

"We are always ready to participate in the 1997 general election as long as it is a free and honest election."

Ms Megawati was deposed by rival Soerjadi following a government-backed congress in Medan last June.

She and her supporters were subsequently dropped from the party's officially-recognised nomination list for the May 29 polls and were barred from submitting a separate one.

In the wake of her ouster, pro-Megawati supporters held daily protests in the capital, culminating in the worst riots here in the last 20 years when rival supporters, backed by army troops, stormed the party headquarters and seized it on July 27 last year.

Yesterday's demonstration followed two big ones last February when Ms Megawati was summoned by police to explain why she held a party at her home to commemorate the PDI's 24th anniversary without a permit.

No incidents were reported during yesterday's protest which began at about nine in the morning and dispersed at two in the afternoon.

As more protesters were bussed in, they unfurled red banners saying "Mega or nothing" and hung another on a nearby overhead bridge which said "Without PDI's Mega, the elections are not valid".

"We are the victims of July 27 and we will persist in bringing Soerjadi to justice," another banner pledged.

About 10 army helicopters made several passes as the crowd waved and jeered at them.

The choppers appeared to be empty, and sources said they were probably returning from a riot-control exercise at Pondok Indah shopping mall south of the city, where shoppers were startled to see troops rappel from hovering helicopters.

Inside the sprawling Parliament complex, however, staff appeared oblivious of the noisy protests outside and the five armoured vehicles parked behind Parliament House as they prepared for a reception and smartly dressed women shopped at a North Sulawesi art and craft fair.