JAKARTA, Indonesia — Hoping to appease the political movement that forced the once-mighty President Suharto from power, the Indonesian government Monday pledged to release prominent critics of the former strongman from jail, canceled some small public works contracts benefiting his kin and issued a report naming army troops as suspects in the May 12 shooting deaths of six students on a Jakarta campus.
Government ministers leaving the first meeting of President B. J. Habibie's Cabinet said parliamentary elections will be held as soon as possible, although probably not before year's end.
Habibie, 61, a politically tainted Suharto protege with little public standing or support in the military, appears increasingly to be an interim figure in a country that has had only two presidents, Sukarno and Suharto, in the last half a century.
Amien Rais, 53, the leading opposition figure, who heads the large Muslim organization Muhammadiya, said he met with Habibie over the weekend, urging him to declare his government "transitional" and to call for elections in the next six to 12 months.
Rais has also called for an investigation into the lucrative financial and business dealings of the Suharto family, accused by opposition groups of plundering billions of rupiah from the state treasury. "Someday they must be brought to court," Rais said at a news conference.
He and other opposition leaders went to Habibie--whose relatives quit their government posts to avoid nepotism and corruption charges like those that dogged the Suharto regime--with a list of several demands for reform.
On Monday, the day before an International Monetary Fund official was set to arrive here to discuss reviving a stalled $43-billion bailout package, the new government moved quickly on several fronts.
"The president said the government is prepared to hold elections as soon as possible, meaning elections can be held when the required laws are formally legalized," government spokesman Akbar Tanjung said after the Cabinet meeting.
As for Gen. Wiranto, the armed forces chief who has emerged as one of the most powerful figures in post-Suharto Indonesia, he said a military investigation had identified 14 army soldiers, including six officers, as suspects in the shooting deaths of six students at Jakarta's Trisakti University.
The killings became a flash point in the student-led push to oust Suharto, prompting protests that moved off campuses and into the streets of the capital. These demonstrations, in turn, led to riots, looting and violence that claimed about 500 lives and caused the teetering autocrat's regime to topple after more than three decades.
The government Monday also pledged amnesty to two prominent political prisoners: former member of parliament Sri Bintang Pamungkas and labor union leader Muchtar Pakpahan, who had been jailed for openly criticizing Suharto.
The two, according to news service reports, were released from Jakarta's Cipinang jail early today but not before they had delivered fiery speeches from a prison balcony to hundreds of jubilant supporters outside the gates.
Bintang praised student demonstrators who hastened Suharto's demise, saying, "Students have always been a pioneer for struggle everywhere, every time."
Pakpahan, wearing a traditional black cap, asked the exuberant, banner-waving crowd at the green prison gates to be calm.
He was serving a three-year sentence for allegedly fomenting a workers' riot in 1994.
Government Justice Minister Muladi promised that more prisoner releases would follow.
Indonesia also made its first moves toward examining the wealth that Suharto and his family accumulated in three decades.
The government said it would review contracts between the state-owned oil company, Pertamina, and trading and shipping companies linked to the Suharto family.
The Jakarta city government canceled contracts for drinking water with two companies linked to the Suharto family and will seek a return of money already made under the deals.
Corruption and nepotism flourished during Suharto's reign. Critics say his family used state subsidies, monopolies and cartels to amass a fortune of about $40 billion. Suharto's oldest daughter, Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, denied rumors that some of her siblings had fled the country.
In an unusual statement released Monday from the Cabinet meeting, Habibie appeared to recognize the fragility of his political base and public support. "I understand that in the society, the legality and legitimacy of this current government is still doubted," Habibie said in a statement to his ministers.