Tuesday, May 26, 1998

Habibie's amnesty offer turned down

ANDREAS HARSONO
The Nation

JAKARTA -- Two of Indonesia's most internationally recognised political prisoners rebuffed an offer of amnesty from President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie's government, which Monday also announced plans for massive political reform and early elections.

Imprisoned legislator Sri Bintang Pamungkas and union leader Muchtar Pakpahan said, from inside the Cipinang prison in east Jakarta Monday, that they would take the amnesty offer only if other political prisoners were released as well.

The two made their statements just minutes after the Justice Minister Muladi had announced on television that the government was to release all political prisoners with ''some legal considerations and selection''.

However, their planned release drew a protest, held by more than 1,000 Indonesians, in front of the notorious prison. They obviously were waiting to welcome all political prisoners as they had been promised.

However, they began to boo government officials and prison guards when they learned about the release of just two prisoners.

Around 200 students and relatives unfurled protest banners asking the government to release all the political prisoners, which include East Timor resistance leader Xanana Gusmao. ''Free Xanana Gusmao,'' read one banner.

Muladi, who had attended a Cabinet meeting earlier Monday, had mentioned the names of Pamungkas and Pakpahan, saying that the Cabinet had agreed to release them but not the ones whose cases ''involved the propagation of communism, Marxism or Leninism, as well as those held for crimes and acts against pancasila and the 1945 constitution''.

Pancasila (''the five pillars'') is Indonesia's state ideology, whose components are trust in God, humanity, national unity, democracy and social justice.

It was obviously a reference to communist leaders jailed in the late 1960s as well as younger student activists of the left-leaning People's Democratic Party (PRD) and separatist fighters for East Timor.

Pakpahan, chairman of the unrecognised Indonesian Prosperity Trade Union, had been charged with inciting the 1994 riots in the city of Medan in northern Sumatra, but his case has never been brought to trial.

The union leader, who has had to be treated for respiratory problems since March last year, was also charged with subversive activities in 1996 due to the publication of his book on trade unionism and a speech to a Portuguese university.

Pamungkas, formerly a legislator of the United Development Party, had been charged with defaming former president Suharto and organising a protest against him in Dresden, Germany in 1995.

The unexpected refusals from Pamungkas and Pakpahan prompted Muladi to negotiate with them and their lawyers. It is still not clear if the two prisoners will accept the amnesty.

Muladi said only that Cipinang prison officials had released them from their cells though the two prisoners, who met their wives and relatives, had refused to leave the prison.

An aide to Pakpahan Rekson Silaban said the two had actually agreed to leave the prison if Muladi gave them a time frame for the release of the other prisoners but as he had refused to give them an answer they had remained in the prison.

Muladi reportedly said all the political prisoners, including the East Timor freedom fighters, would be pardoned after the government had set criteria, adding that the amnesty was part of the government's efforts to promote human rights and meet international criteria on political freedom.

According to the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, there are more than 200 political prisoners, ranging from student leaders like Budiman Sujatmiko and Muslim activists to elderly communist cadres, some of whom have been held for more than 25 years.

The 36-member Cabinet unanimously approved plans to breathe life into Indonesia's restrictive political system.

''The principle is elections as soon as possible after we prepare the laws,'' State Secretary and chief government spokesman Akbar Tandjung said after the meeting.

However, legal experts say the changes and preparations for elections will take time and polls are not likely to be held before next year.

With new elections a new session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), which meets once in five years after parliamentary elections, is possible.

The 1,000-member MPR includes 500 MPs as well as military and civilian officials appointed by the president.

At present only three political parties are allowed to contest polls, and campaigning is restricted to a few weeks before elections.

''The president has discussed making political activity more free ... including allowing anyone in society to form political parties and organisations,'' Tandjung said.

Under the current laws general elections are held every five years, and the next one is not due until 2002. Suharto's Golkar party has won every election with massive margins since the former army general took power in 1965.

Friday, May 22, 1998

Tears, laughter as Suharto quits

Andreas Harsono
The Nation

JAKARTA, 22 May 1998 -- President Suharto was being hemmed in from all sides last night as hundreds of thousands of protesters marched throughout Indonesia demanding he quit immediately and parliamentary leaders gave him until tomorrow to resign.

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also joined the chorus yesterday,calling on President Suharto to ''preserve his legacy'' by stepping down and permitting a transition of democracy.

Albright increased the pressure on Suharto, with whom US administrations have had few disputes with during his 32 years in power. Albright said ''now he has an opportunity for an historic act of statesmanship'' by stepping down.

More than 250,000 people marched against the ageing leader in his homeprovince Yogyakarta while political leaders jockeyed for his ouster and the military assumed control of the capital. Hundreds of thousands of people staged largely peaceful protests in about half a dozen other cities.

A planned massive protest for Suharto's immediate resignation was called off yesterday after an army general threatened another ''Tiananmen Square massacre'' in the capital.

The turning point came at dawn when Muslim leader Amien Rais, who had promised to gather a million people on the streets of Jakarta to force Suharto from power, sounded the retreat. He went on television, looking distinctly shaken, to ask the people to pray instead.

He later said a general had told him the army did not care if Indonesia had its own Tiananmen Square -- a reference to the massacre of hundreds of students in the Chinese capital in 1989 which snuffed out a pro- democracy movement.

''Somebody told me, who happens to be an army general, that he doesn't care at all if ... an accident like Tiananmen will take place today,'' Rais said. ''I was shocked by the army's determination.''

As troops and tanks sealed off central Monas Square -- Jakarta's equivalent of Tiananmen -- Rais said he would join 15,000 students at Parliament with 100,000 of his supporters.

He turned up but few of his followers did.Fearing a possible bloodbath, Rais appealed for protester to remain peaceful and said Suharto's days were numbered. ''Suharto is counting the days,'' hesaid.

Meanwhile, an amphibious US Marine force led by a helicopter carrier was diverted to Indonesia in case a military evacuation of Americans was required.

In Jakarta, more than 60,000 students remained inside the Indonesian parliament building yesterday as parliamentary leaders met with President Suharto and told him he must resign by tomorrow.

Student spokesman Sardini told his peers the leaders of the House of Representatives are to start the preparations for a special session on the People's Consultative Assembly on Monday if Suharto fails to reply tomorrow.

The announcement was greeted by a storm of applause and cheers by the students who are demanding the 77-year-old Suharto immediately resign. They spurned an earlier pledge by Suharto for new elections in which he stated he would not run, as inadequate.

Students from more than 80 colleges and universities around Jakarta began arriving at the parliamentary compound in hundreds of buses and trucks.

Clad in their respective uniforms, the students ignored hour-long heavy midday rains and gathered inside the parliament building.

Many of them also climbed the domes on the building and daringly unfurled their banners which read, ''Suharto, the world wants you to go now'', ''Suharto is the market enemy'' and ''Suharto go to hell with your plan. Step down now''.Hundreds of white-collar workers, including stock brokers, fund managers and young executives surprisingly also joined the protest clad in their suits and ties.

Irsyad Sudiro, the parliamentarian chief of the ruling Golkar party, of which Harmoko is the chairman, said it has five options for resolving the political crisis in Southeast Asia's largest country.

Four of the five choices require Suharto and Vice President B J Habibie to resign and a special meeting of the Assembly, the highest state institution, to be organised.

The fifth alternative was to accept Suharto's proposal for fresh elections in which Suharto would not be a candidate.''We prefer to have the special meeting and suggested it be held on June 8,'' said Irsyad.

His statement, although slightly different from the one issued by Harmoko, means Suharto's own party has asked for his resignation.

Many journalists, students and politicians here find it hard to believe such a proposal. Suharto was ''re-elected'' for his seventh five- year term in office on March 11. Now, the same people in this rubber-stamp Parliament are demanding Suharto step down.

Harmoko, a former journalist, is widely known to be a close aide to Suharto who always defended his boss while in office. Harmoko also repeatedly closed down newspapers while a cabinet member in order to please Suharto.

Suharto's last days, however, still depend on the military whose members have a decisive vote within the House. A meeting reportedly took place at military headquarters but the result is not yet known.

If the military faction supports the Golkar proposal, as the two minority parties -- the United Development Party and the Indonesian Democratic Party -- have done, then Suharto really must resign tomorrow. Otherwise, he might choose to use violence against his loyalists-turned- enemies.

'I beg forgiveness for mistakes andshortcomings'

Andreas Harsono
The Nation

JAKARTA, 22 May 1998 -- Clad in a dark suit, Indonesian strongman Suharto made a public appearance of not more than 10 minutes when he declared his resignation yesterday in the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta.

The situation inside the palace was a bit chaotic and unusual as many foreign journalists had appeared wearing jeans and sport shirts. Palace security officers could do nothing but let them in.

Following is an unofficial translation of President Suharto's resignation speech moved by Reuters:

My fellow countrymen. I have been following closely the recent developments in the national situation, especially the aspirations of the people for reforms in all aspects of the nation's life.

I deeply understand their aspirations and, convinced that reforms should be carried out in an orderly, peaceful and constitutional manner while maintaining the country's unity and carrying forward its development.

Therefore, I had planned to form a reform committee and reshuffle the cabinet. But the facts today show that there has not been sufficient support for the creation of the reform committee and it cannot be formed.

I have concluded that the reform committee is not the best way to carry out the reforms and therefore a cabinet reshuffle is no longer necessary.

In view of this situation, I find it difficult to carry out my duty as the country's ruler and to push ahead with the nation's development. Because of that, based on Article 8 of the 1945 constitution, and having taken into consideration the views of leaders of the House of Representatives and its factions, I have decided to step down from office as the president of Indonesia, effective today, Thursday, May 21, 1998, as I read this statement.

My resignation from the office of the president of the Republic of Indonesia is also conveyed to the leaders of the House of Representatives, who are also the leaders of the People's Consultative Assembly, at a gathering earlier this morning.

As Article 8 of the 1945 constitution lays out, the vice-president, Professor Dr B J Habibie, will carry out the remainder of the presidential term from 1998-2003.

I thank the people for their help and support during my leadership of this country and I beg forgiveness for any mistakes and shortcomings and ask that the people will continue to believe in Pancasila [the state ideology] and the 1945 constitution.

From today, the seventh development cabinet is now a caretaker cabinet and to my ministers, I express my thanks.

As the situation does not permit a swearing-in at the House of Representatives, the swearing-in of the Vice President as President will be carried out now to prevent a leadership vacuum in the governing of the country.

Balance of power up in air in Indonesia

ANDREAS HARSONO
The Nation

JAKARTA, Friday 22 May 1998 -- Military miscalculation in handling an aborted student rally apparently helped end the rule of former president Suharto and changed the political balance inside the Indonesian armed forces.

It is an open secret here that the military is divided into two major camps. The first camp is headed by armed forces commander Gen Wiranto, who refused to use force against the students.

The second camp is headed by Lt Gen Prabowo Subianto, Suharto's son-in- law who heads the army's strategic and reserve command, who did not hesitate to mobilise tanks, barbed wire and soldiers with automatic rifles to set up blockades on Jakarta's major roads on Wednesday. He is close to Jakarta military commander Maj Gen Sjafrie Sjamsuddin.

The second camp apparently had the upper hand on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Both Sjafrie and Prabowo were shown on television rallying their men into the fighting spirit. They decided to crack down on the students who had vowed to organise a march of one million on Wednesday.

Wiranto disappeared from public view and opposition leader Amien Rais simply cancelled the Wednesday morning march and gathered hundreds of thousands of students into the parliamentary compound.

Another miscalculation took place in Yogyakarta. More than one million protesters marched down the main streets of Yogyakarta, about 500 kilometres east of Jakarta, demanding Suharto's resignation. No significant military presence was seen in the area.

Apparently the protests, both at parliament and Yogyakarta helped parliament members decide they should force Suharto to step down. Suharto stepped down yesterday.

Coincidentally, Prabowo and Sjafrie then disappeared from public view. Wiranto consolidated his power and yesterday announced the military would support Suharto's resignation.

Military spokesman Wahab Mokodongan said Amien's decision to cancel the Wednesday march was ''wise and significant''. Prabowo's miscalculation resulted in his father-in-law losing his job.

The balance of power has not been decided yet. Prabowo probably advised Suharto to chose Habibie as the successor in order to provide Prabowo with a weaker president to deal with rather than having to deal with Minister of Defence Wiranto, Home Affairs Minister R Hartono and Foreign Minister Ali Alatas.

Under Indonesian law, if both president and vice president resign, power is transferred to a troika of the three ministers.

Suharto, therefore, opted not to ask Habibie to step down in order to preserve a more advantageous position for his son-in-law. The battle is not over yet.

Men behind the decision

ANDREAS HARSONO
The Nation

JAKARTA, Friday 22 May 1998 -- Suharto probably never dreamed that his loyal Harmoko, a former cabinet member and parliamentary speaker, and Irsyad Sudiro, parliamentarian chief of the Golkar ruling party, would give the final touch to force the ageing leader's resignation.

Their bold opposition began on Monday when Harmoko surprisingly announced that the House of Representatives had asked the Peoples Consultative Assembly, the highest state body, to conduct a special session for questions over Suharto's accountability.

However, the call was neutralised when Gen Wiranto, commander of the powerful armed forces, said the call had been made by ''individuals''.

Harmoko refused to surrender and Sudiro came to his help. Since Tuesday morning, working around the clock, Sudiro and scores of other Golkar legislators tried to find ways, including five alternatives, to ask for Suharto's resignation.

However, Suharto came out with a proposal to keep his post while organising a fresh election. The students and legislators obviously did not trust Suharto anymore.

Harmoko, Sudiro along with other legislators offered choices to Suharto on Wednesday morning when he chose to resign and let Habibie take over.

''He wants to have a constitutional process to transfer the power. We told him that we believed he is wise and sage in sacrificing for the country but that he had to resign,'' said Harmoko.

On Wednesday night Suharto made up his mind and told his closest aides and friends that he would resign yesterday morning.

Thursday, May 21, 1998

'Tiananmen threat' halts rally

ANDREAS HARSONO
The Nation

JAKARTA, Thursday 21 May 1998 -- President Suharto was being hemmed in from all sides last night as hundreds of thousands of protesters marched throughout Indonesia demanding he quit immediately and parliamentary leaders gave him until tomorrow to resign.

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also joined the chorus yesterday,calling on President Suharto to ''preserve his legacy'' by stepping down and permitting a transition of democracy.

Albright increased the pressure on Suharto, with whom US administrations have had few disputes with during his 32 years in power. Albright said ''now he has an opportunity for an historic act of statesmanship'' by stepping down.

More than 250,000 people marched against the ageing leader in his hometown while political leaders jockeyed for his ouster and the military assumed control of the capital.

Hundreds of thousands of people staged largely peaceful protests in about half a dozen other cities.

A planned massive protest for Suharto's immediate resignation was called off yesterday after an army general threatened another ''Tiananmen Square massacre'' in the capital.

The turning point came at dawn when Muslim leader Amien Rais, who had promised to gather a million people on the streets of Jakarta to force Suharto from power, sounded the retreat. He went on television, looking distinctly shaken, to ask the people to pray instead.

He later said a general had told him the army did not care if Indonesia had its own Tiananmen Square -- a reference to the massacre of hundreds of students in the Chinese capital in 1989 which snuffed out a pro- democracy movement.

''Somebody told me, who happens to be an army general, that he doesn't care at all if ... an accident like Tiananmen will take place today,'' Rais said.

''I was shocked by the army's determination.'' As troops and tanks sealed off central Monas Square -- Jakarta's equivalent of Tiananmen -- Rais said he would join 15,000 students at Parliament with 100,000 of his supporters. He turned up but few of his followers did.

Fearing a possible bloodbath, Rais appealed for protester to remain peaceful and said Suharto's days were numbered. ''Suharto is counting the days,'' hesaid.

Meanwhile, an amphibious US Marine force led by a helicopter carrier was diverted to Indonesia in case a military evacuation of Americans was required.

In Jakarta, more than 60,000 students remained inside the Indonesian parliament building yesterday as parliamentary leaders met with President Suharto and told him he must resign by tomorrow.

Student spokesman Sardini told his peers the leaders of the House of Representatives are to start the preparations for a special session on the People's Consultative Assembly on Monday if Suharto fails to reply tomorrow.

The announcement was greeted by a storm of applause and cheers by the students who are demanding the 77-year-old Suharto immediately resign. They spurned an earlier pledge by Suharto for new elections in which he stated he would not run, as inadequate.

Students from more than 80 colleges and universities around Jakarta began arriving at the parliamentary compound in hundreds of buses and trucks.

Clad in their respective uniforms, the students ignored hour-long heavy midday rains and gathered inside the parliament building. Many of them also climbed the domes on the building and daringly unfurled their banners which read, ''Suharto, the world wants you to go now'', ''Suharto is the market enemy'' and ''Suharto go to hell with your plan. Step down now''.

Hundreds of white-collar workers, including stock brokers, fund managers and young executives surprisingly also joined the protest clad in their suits and ties.

Irsyad Sudiro, the parliamentarian chief of the ruling Golkar party, of which Harmoko is the chairman, said it has five options for resolving the political crisis in Southeast Asia's largest country.

Four of the five choices require Suharto and Vice President B J Habibie to resign and a special meeting of the Assembly, the highest state institution, to be organised. The fifth alternative was to accept Suharto's proposal for fresh elections in which Suharto would not be a candidate.

''We prefer to have the special meeting and suggested it be held on June 8,'' said Irsyad. His statement, although slightly different from the one issued by Harmoko, means Suharto's own party has asked for his resignation.

Many journalists, students and politicians here find it hard to believe such a proposal. Suharto was ''re-elected'' for his seventh five- year term in office on March 11. Now, the same people in this rubber-stamp Parliament are demanding Suharto step down.

Harmoko, a former journalist, is widely known to be a close aide to Suharto who always defended his boss while in office. Harmoko also repeatedly closed down newspapers while a cabinet member in order to please Suharto.

Suharto's last days, however, still depend on the military whose members have a decisive vote within the House. A meeting reportedly took place at military headquarters but the result is not yet known.

If the military faction supports the Golkar proposal, as the two minority parties -- the United Development Party and the Indonesian Democratic Party -- have done, then Suharto really must resign tomorrow. Otherwise, he might choose to use violence against his loyalists-turned- enemies.

Tuesday, May 19, 1998

Indonesian army backs Suharto

ANDREAS HARSONO
The Nation

JAKARTA, 19 May 1998 -- Indonesian military commander Gen Wiranto Monday turned down a parliamentarian proposal to ask President Suharto to step down and said the Indonesian armed forces preferred to see a cabinet reshuffle and moderate reform over presidential succession.

''Abri the armed forces perceives the proposal to be the opinion of some individuals, presented collectively, but not representative of the House of Representatives,'' Wiranto said.

All of Indonesia's six television and more than 600 radio stations broadcast the military announcement, repeating it every five minutes and giving the impression that the military was quite disturbed by the proposal in Parliament.

Wiranto held the impromptu press conference after meeting with the chiefs of staff of the army, air force, navy and the police.

Clad in their star-studded green uniforms, the generals sat next to Wiranto to face more than 100 foreign and local journalists at the Ministry of Defence in central Jakarta.

Lt Gen Prabowo Subianto, Suharto's son-in-law who is also the commander of the army strategic and reserve command (Kostrad), also attended the meeting and accompanied Wiranto in the conference.

The meeting was held some hours after House speaker Harmoko along with four deputies made their unexpected move. They supported the public call for reform and surprisingly called on President Suharto to step down.

''We believe that President Suharto has the wisdom and the heart to give way to another leader to lead the reform,'' said Harmoko, who is also the chairman of Suharto's ruling Golkar party and a 15-year member of the cabinet.

The call in parliament for Suharto to step down came after growing pressure to do so by various organisations of students, opposition politicians, Muslim and Christian leaders, union leaders, as well as business managers.

Jakarta remained a gloomy capital Monday night, with thousands of burned and looted buildings, from Bekasi in the eastern part of the city to Tangerang in the west. Huge shopping malls turned off their lights as bodies of burned-out cars still littered the quiet streets.

In housing areas from the kampungs to middle class areas, men were seen wielding clubs and knives to guard their houses.

In a move to soften his backing of Suharto, Wiranto said the military would help set up a reform council to work closely with intellectuals, students and parliamentarians to organise moderate reforms.

''Abri cannot tolerate people and organisations which advocate for their own interests,'' Wiranto said, as if trying to say that Harmoko and his deputies, who are widely known to have been Suharto loyalists in the past, switched sides in the last minute just to save themselves.

''Abri understands that the demand that President Suharto step down has no constitutional basis. Such a demand should be made by all the members of the House,'' Wiranto said.

As thousands of students from the provinces flowed into Jakarta, the general called on them not to conduct their planned nationwide protest Wednesday. The protest is to commemorate Indonesian students who established the first modern organisation, during the Dutch colonial period in 1908.

Earlier Monday, some 6,000 students from 46 universities rallied inside the compound of the House of Representatives, joined by a dozen retired generals and key opposition leader Amien Rais, and threatened not to leave until Suharto steps down.

''If today there is no clear explanation from Mr Harmoko, we will continue to wait here,'' a student representative said. ''Suharto must resign today.'' Amien, head of the 28 million-strong Muslim group Muhammidiyah, has pledged to lead a major protest Wednesday on the riot- scarred streets of Jakarta.

''Suharto, the people do not trust you any longer. Please abandon your power. Please return your mandate to the People's Consultative Assembly,'' he shouted.

Besides the thousands of students inside the compound, around 1,000 people gathered outside the gates to observe the spectacle, causing a major traffic jam.

Saturday, May 09, 1998

Sharpshooters assigned to deal with Indonesia protests

Sharpshooters assigned to deal with I'nesia protests

ANDREAS HARSONO
The Nation

JAKARTA, 9 May 1998 -- The Indonesian government ordered soldiers to shoot looters and arsonists in the riot-torn city of Medan in northern Sumatra as protests spread into other provinces against a controversial government policy.

Medan police chief Lt-Col Nono Priyono said sharpshooters had been assigned to take part in patrolling the city on motorcycles. "They had a standing order to shoot troublemakers on sight. They can be dispatched to the scene of trouble instantly," Priyono said on Thursday.

Witnesses and victims had earlier complained that the troopers had done almost nothing to prevent looting. The soldiers reportedly only sat and looked on while burning and looting took place right in front of their eyes.

Meanwhile other key Indonesian cities such as Jakarta and Surabaya in eastern Java also saw bigger street demonstrations protesting against the petroleum-price hike and demanding that President Suharto, who has been in power since 1965, step down.

Students in Jakarta burnt the 77-year-old leader in effigy, saying that Suharto was a major cause of the economic crisis currently hitting Indonesia. Some student leaders said in their speeches that the crisis had created massive unemployment and higher prices and had prompted firms to close down.

"Hang Suharto! Hang Suharto!" the students chanted in unison.

Indonesian media, however, reported yesterday that Medan was mostly calm, albeit tense, on Thursday after three days of rioting which began on Monday when thousands of Medan students went on to the street to protest against the petrol price hike.

A strong police presence was in position on most of Medan's main roads as the city struggled to restore calm, but most shops and banks remained closed. Prices of basic commodities also increased because of the closure.

The riots began on Monday when students in Medan clashed with the police.

The protesters managed to penetrate police barricades and get away from their campuses. Others joined in and turned the initially peaceful rally into an anti-Chinese riot.

The protesters attacked Chinese-owned buildings, looted various goods from spring beds to sacks of rice and burned down Chinese-owned shops.

Some Chinese shopkeepers were also beaten while they were trying to persuade the mob not to loot their shops.

According to police, around 170 shops were destroyed and 38 cars and 21 motorcycles were set on fire. The police confirmed just one death, although other witnesses put the death toll at six, mostly due to people becoming trapped by fires.

Police spokesmen said 423 people had been arrested during the three- day riot, including 145 university students and 28 high-school students. The others were workers.