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'Cry for Indonesia,' say Wahid's remaining fans

Agence France Presse - July 26, 2001

G.K. Goh, Jakarta – Abdurrahman Wahid's farewell to his followers Thursday was much like his 21 months as Indonesian president – chaotic, confusing and sadly anti-climactic. About 1,500 people attended a rally outside the presidential palace near Jakarta's famous Independence Monument and crowded around a small wooden stage to listen to his parting words.

It was his first appearance outside of the presidential palace since his political foes forced him from office through a parliamentary vote on Monday on charges of incompetence and breaching the constitution.

And although his supporters were clearly devoted – some carried banners reading "I love you, Gus Dur," addressing the ousted leader by his nickname – far fewer gathered than the masses he once warned would converge on Jakarta should he be deposed.

The rally threatened at several stages to turn into farce, first when, just as Wahid was about to get on stage, one of the event organisers screamed into a microphone that 100,000 people had gathered.

Then the clinically blind Wahid's minders virtually had to drag the frail 60-year-old on stage as the crowd pushed and shoved his entourage, trying to get close to their fallen hero.

And minutes after Wahid made his 10-minute speech and departed for the airport on his way to the United States, half of the makeshift stage, which looked as if it belonged in a small school fete, collapsed. Perhaps the stage, like Wahid, was never built strongly enough to carry so many people.

But if the ex-president had noticed the lack of supporters and the sense of anti-climax, he didn't show it. "I will return," he said. "And when I return [from the United States] I will continue my struggle for democracy against people armed with knowledge but no heart.

"I will continue to lead the moral struggle." His words drew raucous cheers but within an hour most people had left and the street sweepers were already well on their way to eliminating all traces of the rally.

The few who were left spoke of the sense of injustice Wahid so clearly feels. "He is still the legitimate president according to the constitution," said Gunardi Pangaribuan, 38, from Central Java. "But don't cry for Gus Dur, cry for Indonesia."