Parliament Demands Wahid Impeachment

Indonesia's Parliament overwhelming passed a censure motion today demanding that President Abdurrahman Wahid be impeached.

Opponents predicted the 60-year-old, nearly blind Islamic cleric could be forced from power by August, while security forces confronted thousands of angry Wahid supporters outside the legislature.

The censure, the third issued by Parliament this year, was approved 365-4. It formally asks the People's Consultative Assembly, Indonesia's top legislative body, to convene a special session and decide Wahid's political fate.

After a sometimes rowdy debate, seven out of the legislature's 10 factions backed the measure that sets in motion a process that could see him replaced by his main rival, Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia's founding leader, Sukarno.

Members of Wahid's own party and a small Christian group walked out before the vote was taken and 39 members of a faction representing the military abstained.

'No Intention of Quitting'

Wahid said he has "no intention of quitting" or invoking earlier threats to declare a state or emergency and dissolve Parliament, his spokesman said.

Wahid has long challenged the right of lawmakers to move against him. He did not attend today's parliamentary session, but instead held a meeting of leaders from the G-15 group of developing nations at a nearby convention center.

In a letter read to Parliament on his behalf today, Wahid rejected the legislature's earlier reprimands, saying they "failed to specify what pledge of office" he violated.

Speaking on the sidelines of the summit, Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab predicted Wahid could still strike a deal with his opponents to save his presidency.

Violence Erupts

About 6,000 Wahid supporters, many carrying sticks and knives, rallied at the gates of the heavily guarded legislature and demanded it be disbanded.

About 1,000 broke through a fence around the complex. They were kept away from its main building by four lines of troops backed by armored vehicles and tanks. Police scuffled briefly with protesters and one officer activated a tear gas canister, apparently by mistake. The group dispersed peacefully as night fell.

Earlier, Wahid spoke briefly to some supporters, saying "just be patient, just be calm."

For three days in Wahid's heartland, East Java, mobs have burned churches, mosques and the offices of political opponents. Many have taken oaths to die for Wahid, who formerly headed Indonesia's largest Muslim organization and is still revered as holy man by millions of followers.

Nearly 600 paratroopers were deployed in the town of Pasuruan and fired warning shots to disperse crowds today. A local hospital said one protester was killed and four wounded by gunfire.

Complex Constitutional Process

Today's vote was the latest step in a complex and largely untested constitutional process that has weighed heavily on Indonesia's transition to democracy.

It began last year with allegations that Wahid was involved in two corruption scandals, but quickly seemed more to reflect growing disillusionment over his erratic leadership style.

The parliament had twice before censured Wahid, who denies any wrongdoing.

He has been cleared by police and state prosecutors of illegality. By ignoring those findings, lawmakers have made it clear that Wahid's fate is now a matter of politics rather than criminal law.

The assembly that will judge Wahid consists of 500 parliamentary deputies and 200 representatives of regional legislatures and social groups.

It elected Wahid to office only 19 months ago, making him Indonesia's first democratically chosen leader after four decades of authoritarian rule.

Initially, he enjoyed wide support and promised to deliver reforms after the long rule of former dictator Suharto. But his popularity sank after he failed to prosecute Suharto for corruption, or quell bloody communal and separatist conflicts. The economy also remains in crisis.

In a speech to lawmakers, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, the legislature's largest single bloc, demanded Wahid be made accountable for mismanaging the affairs of the nation and accused him of encouraging its breakup.