Surabaya – Tens of thousands of people lined the streets of East Java's Tapal Kuda area on Tuesday to welcome home former president and influential Muslim cleric Abdurrahman Wahid.
The crowds, comprising people from all walks of life, continued to pour into Situbondo's main square in the center of the coastal city, some 160 kilometers east of Surabaya, on Tuesday morning.
They came from the towns of Situbondo, Jember and Bondowoso, riding on motorcycles, open trucks, buses and cars. Many also walked to the square, where Abdurrahman gave a speech on democracy and religion later on the day. "We will continue to fight injustice and uphold the truth," Abdurrahman said before thousands of his followers.
This was Abdurrahman's first visit to his political heartland since the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) removed him from office two weeks ago in a special session held following allegations of incompetence and corruption. Abdurrahman was replaced by his former deputy and one-time confidante, Megawati Soekarnoputri.
Abdurrahman's entourage was welcomed by thousands of people who lined the streets in the Tapal Kuda towns from Surabaya to Situbondo, with red-and-white flags being much in evidence.
The former president arrived at Surabaya's Juanda Airport aboard a Garuda plane in the morning, accompanied by his daughter Zannuba Arifah Chafsoh, or Yenny as she is familiarly known. Unusually, Abdurrahman refused to talk to journalists. East Java Governor Imam Utomo, and a number of NU officials and non-governmental organization activists were seen among those welcoming him.
Abdurrahman was visiting the town to attend a ceremony marking the anniversary of the death of influential Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Muslim cleric KH As'ad Syamsul Arifin, a former head of the Salafiyah Safiiyah Islamic Boarding School in Asembagus, Situbondo regency.
Abdurrahman is an influential patron of NU, the country's largest Muslim organization which he led for 15 consecutive years before being elected as the country's fourth president at an MPR general session in October 1999. He was ousted by the same legislators who pushed him to accept the presidency at an MPR special session on July 23 this year.
"Gus Dur is our leader," chanted the supporters crowding the streets. "We still consider Gus Dur as the constitutional president. But, now he is the president of the people because of the different political reality," East Java NU official Ramadhan Sukardi said.
Security around the area was tight with military and police personnel, along with NU security units, guarding the venue.