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Singapore pressures correspondents to disinvite Megawati

Associated Press - September 3, 1997

Laurinda Keys, Singapore – A foreign correspondent's association confirmed Wednesday that it had canceled a planned speech by an Indonesian opposition leader at the request of Singapore's government.

The move against Megawati Sukarnoputi marked the first time the Singapore government has objected to a guest of the Foreign Correspondents Association, said Darren McDermott of the group's executive committee.

The committee voted 4-3 last month to withdraw an invitation to Megawati to speak at an association luncheon, tentatively planned for August, sources told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

"The committee... considered the government's request and the various issues involved, and voted not to hold the lecture as originally planned," the press group said in a statement.

Megawati declined to comment when reached by the AP in Indonesia. She is the daughter of the late President Sukarno, who lost power in 1966 when the current president, Suharto, instituted a military-dominated government that sharply restricts opposition political activity.

Asked if the incident would have a chilling effect on the press group's choice of speakers, McDermott said, "No, I don't think so. I think we'll continue to search for interesting and dynamic speakers and deal with any problems that... may arise as they do. But we're not going to censor ourselves from inviting people because of this."

At a meeting with the executive committee, the official was asked "whether there was an implied threat... to our positions here as reporters... and he said, 'No,"' said McDermott.

"He said he felt the government saw it as a sensitive issue, and while reporters based in Singapore are free to call her or visit her for an interview, her coming here to give a public speech might be seen as problematic," McDermott added.

Government officials refused comment Wednesday. It is believed that she wanted to speak in Singapore because of the high number of international journalists based here.

The Singapore government, which promotes the city-state as a regional media and communications base, is a member, with Indonesia, of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has a policy of non-interference in members' internal affairs.