Thousands gather in Indonesian anti-graft rallies

Updated: 2009-12-09 13:29

JAKARTA, Indonesia: Thousands of people gathered at rallies throughout Indonesia on Wednesday to demand government action to end widespread corruption among politicians, police and other public officials.

More than a dozen rallies - an annual event in this Muslim-dominated nation to mark International Anti-Corruption Day - were planned for the national capital of Jakarta and several of Indonesia's other larger cities.

The palace of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - who is under pressure to act after winning re-election in July on promises of stamping out graft - was to be the site of a large protest later in the day, protest organizer Usman Hamid said. Hundreds of anti-riot police personnel were stationed outside his palace, backed up by two water cannons.

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"Today's rally's aim is not to attack politically any party," Hamid said. "We just want to send a message to our fellow countrymen ... that justice cannot be served while corruption is still rampant in our country."

Yudhoyono's popularity has already been tested by scandals surrounding Indonesia's anti-graft commission and a 6.76 trillion rupiah ($715 million) government bailout of a bank. Earlier this week, he told The Jakarta Post that he believed the protests were partly aimed at destabilizing his government.

"My logic says these political movements want to discredit, shake and topple me in the short term," the newspaper quoted him as saying Monday.

In the South Sulawesi provincial capital of Makassar, 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) northeast of Jakarta, about 2,000 students in blue uniforms held a noisy but peaceful demonstration.

"We want the government not only talking about eliminating corruption," said Amang Wijaya, a 19-year-old student in Makassar. "But we want the government really prosecuting officials who are making the country bankrupt."

Yudhoyono said late Tuesday in a nationally televised speech that he would play a leading role in the fight against corruption.

However, he faces questions over the last year's 6.76 trillion rupiah ($715 million) government bailout of a bank, which critics have alleged was full of irregularities. Indonesian lawmakers last week launched an inquiry into allegations that the bailout benefited Yudhoyono's re-election campaign - a claim he has denied.

The Indonesian government's struggle against graft has also been hurt by a dispute between the top anti-graft agency and rival police and prosecutors in Indonesia. Investigators concluded that senior law enforcers tried to frame anti-graft officials from the Corruption Eradication Commission on fabricated charges of bribery and blackmail.

According to advocacy group Transparency International's corruption index, Indonesia ranks 111th out of 180 countries, with the 180th - Somalia - ranking the worst. The Corruption Eradication Commission has been key to efforts to fight corruption in recent years.