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Habibie tries to crush rivals

Sydney Morning Herald - December 12, 1998

Louise Williams, Jakarta – Indonesian police will charge two prominent retired generals and 10 others with conspiracy to overthrow the Habibie Government, signalling a return to the heavy-handed repression of Government critics used by the Soeharto regime.

The National Police deputy chief, Lieutenant-General Nana Permana, said two retired military officers from the opposition National Front would be charged with "conspiracy" over a meeting which called for the replacement of the Habibie Government with a "presidium" or caretaker government of national figures.

Eighteen people signed the declaration, including retired Lieutenant-General Kemal Idris, the former commander of the powerful Army Strategic Reserve, and a former Jakarta Governor, retired Lieutenant-General Ali Sadikin. The group has been blamed for inciting the massive student protests last month which resulted in three days of bloody clashes on the streets of Jakarta, in which at least 14 people died. However, student leaders insist they were not following anyone else's political agenda and have continued to hold almost daily protests.

Earlier, the Indonesian Armed Forces Commander, General Wiranto, said the National Front meeting, on November 12, fell under the criteria of "treason" as defined by the penal code, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. "They agreed to form a People's Consultative Assembly and a presidium to replace the legitimate Government in an unconstitutional manner," General Wiranto said.

Students and opposition figures say the Habibie Government is not legitimate because when the former president, Mr Soeharto, stepped down in May he merely handed over to his hand-picked legislature of political cronies, not a democratically elected government.

The Government has also imposed travel bans on a prominent critic, the former political prisoner Mr Sri Bintang Pamungkas, and his brother, economist Mr Sri Edi Swasono. Mr Sri Bintang was released by the Habibie Government after serving more than two years of his sentence for insulting Mr Soeharto by calling him a "dictator" during an academic speech in Germany.

But the charges are unlikely to silence the opposition. As protests, riots and looting persisted yesterday, the Co-ordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs, Mr Feisal Tanjung, confirmed the Government was planning to recruit 40,000 civilian militia in the first stage of a plan to back up security forces.