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Anti-Suharto Protests Continue at Colleges

Indonesia: President is burned in effigy on one campus. Students in Medan choose not to renew battles with army.

May 09, 1998|DAVID LAMB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Students seeking President Suharto's resignation continued their protests Friday on eight campuses in Indonesia, but calm returned to the city of Medan, which had been rocked by three days of rioting.

In Jakarta, 200 students who had sat in front of parliament were arrested when they refused to disperse, and at the Teachers Training Institute students burned Suharto in effigy after holding a mock trial and condemning him to death. Army troops ringed the campus but did not interfere.

Students in Medan, Indonesia's third-largest city, marched carrying a banner that read "Suharto Is the Son of Satan" but did not leave campus. They said they did not want a repeat of the violence that led to looting and confrontation with the army this week.

Most of the looting was directed at shops owned by ethnic Chinese, a community that makes up about 4% of Indonesia's population but controls 70% of the private wealth.

Many Chinese kept their shops closed Friday, and hundreds of others piled on scheduled flights headed for Singapore and cities within Indonesia.

With Indonesia's 400,000-member military on alert throughout the country, Suharto, who has ruled for 32 years, longer than any head of state except Cuba's Fidel Castro, was said to believe the situation was under control and planned to go ahead with a weeklong trip abroad.

He left today for the Group of 15 summit of developing nations, beginning Monday in Cairo. He plans to stay in Egypt on an official visit until Friday. His departure was seen as a signal to Indonesia and the international community that he does not consider his rule in jeopardy, Western diplomats said.

The student demonstrations against nepotism and corruption began in February as Indonesia's economic crisis worsened. The crisis led to a $43-billion bailout package put together by the International Monetary Fund. One of the IMF demands was that Indonesia end its subsidy of some essentials, such as fuel.

Fuel subsidies were cut Monday, and the price of gasoline shot up 70%. The demonstrations intensified. Political analysts had expected social unrest to coincide with the lifting of subsidies, and many were surprised that violence was not more widespread.

Only a small number of Indonesia's 200 million people--perhaps 20,000, mostly students--have joined the protests. Life in Jakarta, the capital, and most cities remains normal. Indonesia's currency and stock market plunged earlier in the week with the violence in Medan. Both stabilized Friday.

The army, which had been restrained in dealing with the early protests, got tougher this week, firing tear gas and rubber bullets to put down the disturbances in Medan. Its officers said no one was killed in the confrontation. Local newspapers, however, said seven people died.

Early today, witnesses in the central Java city of Yogyakarta said security forces beat a student to death during a demonstration Friday in which about 100 people were wounded. There was no immediate comment from police.

Gen. Wiranto, the chief of Indonesia's military whose loyalty to Suharto does not appear to be in question, has been at once stern and conciliatory in dealing with the students. He has warned them that he will not permit their protests to get out of control.

But he also said this week that he has heard the students' demands for political reform and that the topic is now on the national agenda.

Suharto, 76, is also said to be willing to consider reforms and has backtracked on his recent statement that there could be no political changes until the year 2003, when his term ends.

The reform movement gained significant backing this week when both the Assn. of Muslim Intellectuals, an establishment group representing 10 million Muslims, and the Communion of Churches, Indonesia's largest Protestant organization, gave their support to students' demands for more democracy.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon said Friday that it is pulling 17 U.S. troop trainers from Indonesia and halting a parachute jumping exercise there because of the mounting unrest.

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