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Moslem leader defends meeting with Suharto

Agence France Presse - December 21, 1998

Jakarta – A popular Moslem leader has defended a weekend meeting with fallen Indonesian president Suharto against mounting criticism, saying the veteran leader still had a strong influence on the nation's political life, reports said Monday.

"We asked Suharto, as someone who has a wide following, to order his followers to restrain themselves," Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid was quoted by the Kompas daily as saying.

Many have questioned his motives in the unprecedented meeting with Suharto at his mid-town Jakarta residence on Saturday. Others have professed themselves perplexed over Gus Dur's attempts to include Suharto, the target of almost-daily student protests, in a national dialogue to cool the turbulence in Indonesia since Suharto resigned under pressure in May after 32 years in power.

The Saturday meeting was the first time since Suharto's fall that he had been openly approached on what Gus Dur called "the state of the nation." "I do not care whether I am suspected of maneuvering or not maneuvering," said Gus Dur, who heads the nation's largest Moslem group, the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU.)

As part of a national reconciliation dialogue, he has already met with Indonesian President B.J. Habibie, who represented the civilian bureaucracy, and Armed Forces Chief General Wiranto, who represented the military bureaucracy, he said.

Habibie, Suharto's successor and protege, has hailed the move by Gus Dur as "good," the Jakarta Post said quoting State Secretary Akbar Tanjung. According to Tanjung, Habibie also gave his stamnp of approval to Gus Dur's drive to get a national reconciliation dialogue going to help the nation through its problems. But, according to Tanjung, he himself had no plan to meet with Suharto.

Gus Dur was quoted by Kompas as saying that "Habibie does not reject (a meeting with Suharto) but he only wants to meet Suharto as an individual." He also said that his approaches to Suharto should in no way affect the current probe into alleged corruption and abuse of power by the former president during his tenure. Suharto should still be brought to justice, he said, and his case dealt with according to the law.

Gus Dur's detractors have expressed fears his move may divert the focus of legal proceedings against Suharto, and some have accused him of harboring political ambitions. The Moslem leader has been at the forefront of efforts to establish a national reconcilation dialogue to combat waves of rising violence in the country and try to ease the standoff between reformist students and the establishment, most of whom are old Suharto appointees.

He first mooted inviting Suharto to join the dialogue early last week, saying he still commanded the loyalty of many.

Several commentators have blamed some of the outbursts of violence in the country, including a wave of attacks on churches and mosques, on Suharto loyalists working behind the scenes to try to distract the nation from the investigation into his wealth. The commentators have offered no proof of their allegations.