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Indonesia's Supreme Court Throws Out Corruption Conviction of Top Politician - 2004-02-12

Indonesia's top court has thrown out the corruption conviction of one of the country's most powerful politicians. The case has far-reaching consequences for the country.

Akbar Tanjung is the speaker of parliament, the chairman of one of the country's most powerful political parties, and, since the corruption charges were overturned, possibly Indonesia's next president.

Almost two years ago, he was convicted of taking $4.5 million that was meant to provide relief for Indonesia's poorest citizens, but the Supreme Court found he was not responsible for taking the money.

The case has stirred strong emotions in Indonesia. Almost 1,000 students turned up outside the court to demand that it uphold Mr. Tanjung's conviction. After a confrontation with the police, student leaders said more than 50 of their number had been injured, although none of the injuries was life-threatening.

A few of members of Mr. Tanjung's political party showed up at the court to give him support.

The court decision clears the way for Mr. Tanjung to make a bid for the presidency in this year's elections, the first direct presidential elections in Indonesia's history.

He is chairman of the Golkar Party, the vehicle that disgraced former President Suharto used to keep himself in power for more than three decades. Many opponents see Mr. Tanjung as a holdover from the corrupt power politics of the Suharto era.

Analysts say that just students squared off against Mr. Tanjung's supporters outside the court, but during the election, Indonesia's younger, more progressive elements are likely to square off against the political machine that has run the country for years.