Jakarta: More than 100,000 students rallied in Indonesia's parliament complex demanding President Suharto immediate resignation as thousands of ordinary citizens gathered outside.
Many began arriving at the government complex by bus Wednesday morning and soon their numbers rose to over 100,000. Today is known as Indonesia's National Day of Awakening, marking the nationalist struggle against the Dutch 90 years ago.
Students vow they will not be deterred from mass protests today to commemorate the foundation of a youth movement in 1908 which opposed Dutch colonial rule, despite pleas by some national figures to accept Mr Suharto's concessions and cease demonstrating.
Several thousand students have maintained an all-night vigil outside despite fears that security forces may clear the complex. The students have occupied the grounds and buildings of Parliament since early yesterday and plan to continue their protest today as part of nationwide demonstratons.
Suharto has no legitimacy anymore to the public of Indonesia,” said Safik, a member of the Islamic Association of Indonesian Students. “All the students of Indonesia want Suharto to step down. We will (protest) months or years until he does.”
A huge banner draping from the roof of the Parliament summed up the feelings of students - it accuses President Suharto of corruption and nepotism that has brought the country to its knees in the economic crisis.
Grouped together in the brightly coloured jackets of their universities and colleges, they made up a shifting chequerboard of yellow (UI), red (Trisakti), green and blue, behind banners demanding the 76-year-old President step down. A large delegation from the Bogor Agricultural Institute (IPB) wore black ribbons on their left arms in memory of last week's shooting of six students from Trisakti University.
The strident chants of "Suharto turun" (Suharto step down) and "reformasi sekarang" (reform now) were reminiscent of the 1986 ``People Power'' protests in the Philippines. Hundreds of young men and women took turns climbing the green domed assembly hall where as part of an audacious protest they strung banners reading ``Reform Yes. Suharto No.''
Prominent Indonesian Moslem leader Amien Rais said he expected 100,000 of his supporters to join him at the parliament complex, which students have been virtually occupying for two days. "I am going now to join them to show my support," Rais said. Earlier Rais had cancelled his mass protest plan as during the night, the army moved in to try to block the site of the planned protest, using barbed wire for barricades.
The site is a plaza ringed by government buildings, including the presidential palace. Dozens of armored personnel carriers, tanks and other vehicles filled the streets, military helicopters swooped low and soldiers guarded all entrances to the plaza. According to one report, 150,000 military personnel are deployed across Jakarta.
The President has said he will stand down and hold new elections, but has not set a time frame for the elections. But one of Indonesia's leading Muslim intellectuals, Dr Madjid, says an election could be held as early as three months.
Nurcholis Madjid speaking to Australian television said,"Now comes many kinds of ideas including if it's possible not in six months but in three months," the former chairman of the strongest Indonesian Moslem organization, HMI, said. "And they made an argument those who happen to know how to process the rewritings of the law - they are optimistic that all these things could be finished in a very short time if all efforts are made."
Student protests were held across the country to mark "National Awakening Day", including Yogjakarta and Medan, where they joined calls for President Suharto's immediate resignation. In the ancient city of Yogyakarta the Sultan is leading today's mass protest. Every business in Yogyakarta is displaying a "pro reformasi" banner. Some even hang from the palace walls. The universities are plastered with black flags of condolence for the students shot dead in Jakarta last week.
"This palace is owned by the Sultan for all the people for all their activities.", the Sultan's brother Prince G.B. Joyokusuuo said. "All of my family supports reform."
Adjusting his baseball cap, the prince clenched his fists: "The Sultan
is as committed to the people as was his father. He committed himself to
the people's happiness. He helped push out the Dutch and today Soeharto
must be opposed in the same way."