THE Government has abolished one of its most oppressive laws in a move touted as a major step forward for the nation's fledgling democracy movement. Co-ordinating Minister for Political Affairs and Security Susilo Sudarman said after a meeting with the Cabinet the Government would scrap controversial regulations which required a permit if five or more people gathered. New guidelines to be introduced on January 1 would only require applicants planning to hold public gatherings to notify local police in writing seven days before the scheduled event. Police would then be required to voice any objections within three days. Previously, almost all proposed meetings had to be approved by three government agencies including the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the military. According to media reports, at least five permit requests had been turned down this year and 26 meetings interrupted for lack of permits. The Government has been criticised over the law by a wide spectrum of society including the legal minority opposition Indonesian Democratic Party, which has had difficulty holding party meetings in the past. Legal analysts yesterday praised the abolition as a step forward for democracy but said the new guidelines were still open to abuse as they contained several escape clauses for the Government. 'In my opinion there is substantially no difference [between the new and old laws] because the legal basis is still the criminal legal code,' said the executive director of the independent Legal Aid Institute, Muliana Kusumah. But he said: 'The new law should motivate social and political organisations to more fully articulate the political and democratic aspirations of the people because it indicates a broadening of the political corridor and perhaps a return to greater keterbukaan [openness]. 'Its technical implementation will depend on the local security apparatus and how far they are willing to go.' The new law will apply to social, cultural and political meetings that utilise public property or involve members of the public. A separate law is being drafted for street demonstrations and protests. According to Mr Muliana, the main loophole in the new guidelines is a clause allowing police to disperse meetings if there is evidence of 'intent or activities which breach the law'. 'The announcement is a step forward in the realisation of the right to assemble and freedom to express an opinion but it depends on the interpretation of the state apparatus as to the definition of a political meeting.' He said the old law was based on article 510 of the criminal code and recalled regulations during the Dutch colonial regime aimed at restricting Indonesian nationalist gatherings. Others said although the new law was good for artists, who would be able to conduct performances without notification if they were held on private premises and closed to the public, it contained several escape clauses for the Government. Emmy Hafild, of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, pointed to a clause requiring political parties to notify authorities if they wanted to hold meetings which 'discuss affairs which influence the life of the state and the running of the country'. 'This shows that basically the people's right to organise and assemble is still controlled,' she was quoted as saying by English language daily The Jakarta Post. 'The ruling still runs counter to Article 28 of the Constitution.' The article guarantees the right of the people to assemble and has long been quoted as the basis of opposition to the law governing gatherings.