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Megawati begins legal strikeback on terror

Jakarta, Oct. 18 (Reuters): Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri signed two emergency anti-terrorism decrees today giving authorities wider powers to investigate the Bali bombings, the justice minister said.

“The President has just signed two decrees on terrorism and on the Bali bombings,” Yusril Ihza Mahendra told a news conference.

Mahendra said earlier the decrees would extend the death penalty to those convicted of terrorist acts. Media reports said they would also allow authorities to detain people for three to seven days on suspicion of committing such acts.

Last weekend’s bombings in Bali killed almost 200 people, most of them foreigners. No one has claimed responsibility.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, has come under intense international pressure to clamp down on terrorism with some countries saying it has been a weak link in the US-led “war on terror”.

The government has in the past been fearful of a backlash from its population if it cracks down on militant groups but many analysts say the Bali tragedy has changed that.

Some point the finger of suspicion for the Bali bombs at Jemaah Islamiah, a militant Islamic network linked to al Qaida, which regional intelligence officials say has plotted acts of terrorism throughout southeast Asia.

Militant cleric

Indonesia is set to question a militant Muslim cleric its neighbours and Western intelligence agencies say is a key player in a regional terror network, but an aide said he was sick and might be unable to show up.

Police said Abu Bakar Bashir, the cleric foreign intelligence officials believe to be a leader in the al Qaida-linked regional Jemaah Islamiah network, has been summoned for questioning tomorrow but police and his lawyer said this was not over the Bali attack.

Lawyer Mahendradatta told Reuters today police documents showed his client was a suspect over a bomb attack in the country in 2000. “I underline this has nothing to do with the Bali blast. There is no connection with the Bali bombing,” he added.

Irfan Awwas, executive chairman of the Mujahidin Council Indonesia-MMI of which Bashir is spiritual leader, told Reuters by telephone that Bashir was sick and had been taken by ambulance to a hospital in his home city of Solo.

“He has to go to Jakarta but it seems he cannot go,” Awwas said. He did not give details.

Police spokesman Saleh Saaf said he would wait to see whether Bashir shows up as scheduled at 10 am (0300 GMT) tomorrow before making a comment on what action police might take. Australian Prime Minister John Howard, speaking to reporters after visiting the bombing site in the coastal resort of Kuta which is thought to have killed more than 100 of his compatriots, said he was pleased with the Indonesian response so far.

“I will say without equivocation we have put the view again, urgently and strongly, to the Indonesian government since last Saturday that a much tougher approach to terrorism must be taken.”

“This is a view that we have put to the Indonesian government over a long period of time and I’m very pleased with the responses since Saturday,” he said.

The distraught Australian leader, wearing an open-necked shirt with the sleeves rolled up, walked among the charred remains of what was once the Sari nightclub. It was one of the most popular nightspots for tourists, particularly for young Australians relaxing after a day in the Kuta surf.

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