Page last updated at 16:06 GMT, Monday, 23 November 2009

Indonesia leader says charges should be dropped in row

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
President Yudhoyono was elected on promises to combat corruption

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said two officials at the centre of a high level corruption scandal should not face trial.

The president said the case, which caused public outrage when it emerged the two could have been framed, should be settled out of court.

The scandal has pitted the country's anti-corruption agency against senior law enforcement officials.

Anti-corruption activists criticised the president's announcement.

He needed to go further to prove he was serious about clamping down on corruption, they said.

In his televised speech to the nation, the president said the two officials should not face trial so "the image of Indonesia in the eyes of the world improves".

But he also said he could not interfere with the investigations.

Frequent protests

The BBC's Karishma Vaswani reports from Jakarta there had been high hopes that what the president said would draw a line under the ongoing corruption scandal that has transfixed the nation.

But instead it raised even more questions about his commitment to root out graft in this country, she says.

BBC correspondent Karishma Vaswani
Karishma Vaswani, BBC News, Jakarta
The case of Mr Rianto and Mr Hamzah has angered many Indonesians. They see the arrests of the two anti-corruption officials as an attempt by the police and the attorney general's office to target the powerful agency.

Indonesians were looking to their president for leadership. They were hoping he would demand that officials in the police and judiciary should resign.

Instead, what they got was what some political analysts have called a typically Javanese approach to a difficult situation.

The Indonesian leader opted for the middle ground - a decision many say could cost him the support of the public who voted him back into power earlier this year.

An independent inquiry had already recommended that the police case against two anti-corruption officials accused of extortion and abuse of power should be dropped.

The two men - Bibit Samad Rianto and Chandra Hamzah - have been released, but the police and the attorney general's office have so far refused to drop their case.

Public sympathy has been growing for the anti-corruption agency - known by its acronym KPK - with almost daily protests on the streets of Jakarta urging the president to act decisively.

Indonesians do not have much faith in many of their institutions, like the police force or the judiciary, but the KPK is one thing many of them do believe in, our correspondent says.

She says they see the case against the two KPK men as an outrageous injustice - an attempt by Indonesia's police to weaken the powerful agency, which has earned itself a reputation for putting corrupt officials behind bars, even those in high places.

The alleged conspiracy against the KPK was revealed in wiretaps played in court earlier this month, in which senior officials from the national police and the attorney general's office discussed plans to undermine the agency.

President Yudhoyono has been under pressure to come up with a solution to this problem, with mounting criticism that he has been slow to act.

He was re-elected in July on his promise to clamp down on corruption.

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