Thursday, August 05, 1999

Suharto hospitalised amidst student protests

The Nation

JAKARTA -- Former Indonesian president Suharto was hospitalised yesterday morning amidst growing public demands that he be brought to justice for granting government contracts to his children and cronies while in power.

Syahrir Muhammad, spokesman for the Pertamina hospital in southern Jakarta, told the media that Suharto had been brought to the hospital around midday for a "medical check-up", saying that the hospital had been contacted by the family earlier in the morning for an examination of the 78-year-old former leader.

Syahrir declined to elaborate on the result of the check-up but promised to give updates to the media.

The SCTV channel, however, reported last night that Suharto had been treated at the hospital's intensive care unit on the sixth floor for what had been speculated to be a mild heart attack. He was very likely to stay the night in the state-owned hospital, the report added.

Some family members, including Suharto's eldest daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, her sister Siti Hutami Adiningsih and her younger brother Hutomo Mandala Putra, were also seen entering the hospital.

One of Suharto's grandchildren, Ari Sigit, told journalists that his grandfather was in good condition, saying that the former president had been admitted to the hospital for just a "regular medical examination".

Despite repeated denials, the arrival of many relatives and VIPs prompted speculation in Jakarta that the hospital visit was not a simple medical check-up.

Former vice president Sudharmono, a long-time friend of Suharto's, and some businessmen were also seen entering the heavily guarded sixth floor.

"I also heard that he was hospitalised for a stroke, but I am still waiting," said Enggartiarso Lukito, a business associate of Bambang Trihatmodjo, Suharto's middle son, who heads the widely diversified Bimantara business group.

The health of the overweight Suharto began to attract public attention a few months after his wife, Tien Suharto, died in April 1996 of a heart attack.

Suharto had a medical check-up in a German hospital in 1997, but the German doctors declared him fit for a man of his age.

The ex-president's current stay at the Pertamina hospital has also raised questions among dozens of local and foreign journalists who flocked to the hospital yesterday. Suharto usually uses the army-owned Gatot Subroto hospital, whose doctors are more familiar with his medical record.

Suharto took power from President Sukarno in 1968 the pretext of a threat of communist insurgency and ruled the country from then on. Nationwide student protests forced him to step down last May.

He was replaced by then vice president B J Habibie, who has made several efforts to liberalise the fourth most populous country on earth while protecting his mentor Suharto from trial on charges of corruption, collusion and nepotism.

Various organisations estimate that Suharto's children amassed a fortune ranging from US$9 billion to $40 billion while their father was in power. The latest investigations by Time magazine concluded that the Suhartos had amassed $15 billion in cash, jewellery and various other forms including property investments in many locations around the world.

Suharto denied the report and filed a lawsuit against the American news weekly in a Jakarta district court earlier this month.

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