Americans in Indonesia Warned About Safety

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

London ( - The U.S. Embassy and other western missions in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, will be under extra police protection in coming days amid fears of bloody clashes between police and supporters of President Abdurrahman Wahid.

The embattled president faces parliamentary censure for a second time Monday over his alleged implication in two financial scandals involving some $6 million.

Jakarta is holding its breath ahead of events planned for the coming days. On Sunday, a large number of Wahid supporters, including militants, are expected to flood into the capital for a mass prayer rally and show of solidarity with the frail president.

Adherents of Wahid's Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which claims 40 million members, have already begun to arrive in Jakarta for the event, the official Antara news agency reported Friday.

They include members of a group called the Truth Defenders' Front, whose leader recently announced that almost 70,000 of its members had signed up to "suicide squads" to defend the president to the death against any attempt to oust him.

Wahid has called on his supporters to shun violence, but critics note he has not urged them to stay away from the capital.

On Monday, lawmakers are due to vote on a censure motion that will take Wahid, a Muslim cleric, a step closer to impeachment. His cabinet urged the legislature Friday not to go ahead with the move, although vice-president, Megawati Sukarnoputri - who would replace Wahid if he is ousted - was quoted as saying she would probably not oppose the motion.

The Indonesian Observer Friday quoted a presidential spokesman as saying Wahid would not resign over the censure "since he did nothing wrong."

The president denies wrongdoing, accusing political rivals of manufacturing the charges against him in a bid to remove him from power.

In an editorial Friday, the Observer warned of "imminent disaster" because of the country's leaders' inability to break the political deadlock.

The fourth most populous country on earth has experienced instability and dictatorship for many years, until the 1999 election of its first democratically-chosen leader ushered in hopes for an era of optimism.

But Wahid has instead been slammed for not ending the social and economic crisis he inherited on assuming power. Parts of the sprawling archipelago have been shaken by separatist violence, as well as a bloody civil war between Muslims and Christians in the only part of the country to have a sizeable non-Muslim population.

Indonesian police say they will deploy 40,000 members in Jakarta to ensure security on Sunday and Monday, and warned they would shoot rioters on sight. Foreign embassies would also get extra protection.

Americans warned

In a warning to American citizens, the U.S. Embassy identifies areas in the capital where demonstrations may be expected next week, and urges U.S. citizens to be alert and to avoid large gatherings.

A source at the embassy said by telephone Friday that the mission planned to open as usual on Monday but that staff were worried about what might happen.

"Our concerns are about possible violence on Sunday or Monday if there are clashes. Obviously we're hoping that doesn't occur."

She said there was no "absolutely" no reason to believe militants would target the embassy specifically, as the U.S. was not identified in any way with Wahid's present troubles.

Last October the embassy shut for several days after receiving what officials called a "credible threat." The embassy had then been the scene of almost daily protests against American policies in the Middle East, in the early weeks of the Palestinian uprising.

At the time, tensions were also exacerbated by allegations of American spying and a row between the U.S. ambassador and two ministers in Wahid's cabinet.

See Earlier Story:
War Of Words Sours U.S.-Indonesia Ties (Oct 30, 2001)

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow