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Dissidents Launch Effort to Oust Opposition Party Leader

June 21, 1996

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ Megawati Sukarnoputri’s rivals began a military-backed effort today to topple her as leader of Indonesia’s major opposition party, a day after the largest opposition protest in years.

About 5,000 supporters clashed with police on Thursday during a mass demonstration in Jakarta over the military’s attempts to oust her. At least 128 people were reported injured, and police arrested 73 people.

Megawati, daughter of the popular late President Sukarno, is seen as a likely challenger in the next election to President Suharto, whose three-decade rule has been virtually uncontested.

About 2,500 supporters gathered again today at the headquarters of Megawati’s Indonesia Democratic Party to hold another protest march. But they dispersed without holding the rally after a warning from Jakarta’s military commander.

Lt. Col. Didi Supandi, the military command spokesman, said Megawati’s supporters were told ``the military would take stern measures″ if they defied the warning.

Sopan Sophian, a party board member, told the supporters to go home for now and meet again Saturday for another rally. As he spoke, scores of policemen and soldiers armed with canes and batons filled the party headquarters.

Megawati renewed her attack on the government today, accusing it of suppressing democratic rights and promoting a rebellion in her party by sponsoring a congress of dissidents in the western city of Medan.

``The congress ... is an armed military camp,″ she said in a statement, adding that use of the state-controlled media to discredit her ``is a flagrant violation of all democratic principles and inalienable rights in democratic nations.″

Megawati faces a challenge from 16 of 29 top officials of her Indonesia Democratic Party. The faction, which has the backing of Indonesia’s powerful military, is meeting today in hopes of electing a new leader.

The power balance in the party is not clear, but the opposing faction claims Megawati lost the support of a majority of members.

Megawati has been seen as a threat by the government since she was elected party leader in 1994. Until this week, opposition leaders rarely have been able to gather large crowds for protests in the staid world of Indonesian politics. Demonstrations by even a few hundred people are unusual.

Suharto, who replaced Sukarno in 1966, has been elected to six five-year terms unopposed and is likely to run a seventh time in 1988.

Megawati has not said if she aspires to the presidency. But the emergence of a Sukarno family member and her potential for attracting popular support has ruffled the government and its main patron, the military.

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