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Wahid holds firm as Megawati tours

Megawati Kalimantan
Megawati's visit comes amid pressure for Wahid to resign  

SAMPIT, Indonesia -- Indonesian Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri has visited riot-torn areas of Central Kalimantan province amid growing pressure for President Abdurrahman Wahid to resign.

But the army has warned Wahid's enemies against seizing the chance to oust him while he is on a controversial overseas trip, local media reported on Friday.

"It's up to the people to decide whether Gus Dur (Wahid) should resign or stay," the Jakarta Post newspaper quoted army chief General Endriartono Sutarto saying after a closed-door meeting of 95 top officers.

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Wahid refuses to shorten trip despite Indonesia's ethnic violence

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"The Indonesian military will always uphold the constitution."

Wahid has faced mounting criticism for going ahead with the two-week trip to Africa and the Middle East despite the raft of problems facing his battered country, especially the outbreak of ethnic savagery in Borneo that has killed almost 500 and forced 50,000 people from their homes.

Indonesia's most travelled president is now in Saudi Arabia for the Muslim Haj pilgrimage.

Jakarta demonstration
Hundreds of students called for Wahid to step down  

Thousands of students protested outside the presidential palace in Jakarta on Thursday demanding Wahid's resignation.

But the reaction was different as Megawati visited the town of Sampit, where many of the victims of the 10-day violence were killed. She was cheered as she waded through a crowd of grief-stricken refugees.

The vice president's trip highlighted the absence of President Abdurrahman Wahid, who is now on a tour of the Middle East.

Megawati was accompanied by Parliament Speaker Akbar Tanjung, armed forces chief Admiral Widodo Adisucipto and other top military officials.

Wahid under attack

Hundreds of students marched on the streets of Jakarta, meanwhile, to demand that Wahid cut his trip short to return home, to deal with the ethnic violence.

But Wahid continues to deny that his country is in turmoil.

During a joint news conference with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in Sudan, Wahid was quoted as saying that he would not deny that there were problems in parts of the country.

"But it is a large country and problems in one part do not mean that the whole of Indonesia is in turmoil," Wahid reportedly said, in quotes carried by the al-Ayam newspaper.

Wahid began his Middle Eastern trip soon after ethnic violence in Kalimantan broke out. He left Sudan for Saudi Arabia on Thursday, to perform the Muslim haj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Quiet over Central Kalimantan

An uneasy calm returned to Central Kalimantan Thursday, as security forces patrol hot spots with orders to shoot rioters on sight.

Military officials say there is no longer a need to declare a state of emergency in the region -- national police chief General Bimantoro has said the crisis had eased.

His sentiment was echoed by Indonesia's Territorial Affairs chief Lt. Gen. Agus Widjojo, who told CNN that there was no need for a state of emergency to be declared, since the situation is now under control.

But Indonesian relief workers say they are struggling to meet the needs of the victims of ethnic violence.

In Sampit, aid workers are struggling to care for an estimated 25,000 Madurese who were displaced by the violence.

Health workers say at least six refugees have died since the crisis began, and diarrhea is spreading, particularly among children.

U.S. aid organization World Vision told CNN.com that it was trying to get food supplies to the displaced people as quickly as possible.

The recent round of ethnic violence was sparked more than a week ago, and officials say it has since resulted in at least 469 deaths.

Aid workers say the actual number of fatalities could be more than double this. The native Dayaks have been trying to drive the Madurese out of Kalimantan, because they believe the immigrants have taken away their jobs and their lands.

The Madurese moved to the area in the 1960's as part of a government-orchestrated relocation program, in an effort to ease overcrowding on the island of Madura.

Inadequate response

Indonesia's central government has been criticized for doing too little to stop the latest round of ethnic violence.

There have been many reports involving police and soldiers who stood by as Dayaks beheaded or hacked the Madurese settlers to death.

There is further criticism that instead of battling the Dayaks, the security forces arranged a mass evacuation of the Madurese by boat.

"If you evacuate the Madurese without thinking about how they might one day return then it legitimizes the violence against them," a lawyer who runs the government's Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence said.

"The authorities are helping in ethnic cleansing," he said.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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