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Suharto, former president of Indonesia and brutal ruler, dies
January 27th, 2008

Indonesia’s former president Suharto, an army general who crushed Indonesias communist movement and ushered in 32 years of tough rule that saw up to a million political opponents killed, died today of multiple organ failure. He was 86.

Suharto had been ailing since he was admitted to a hospital in the capital, Jakarta, on January 4 with failing kidneys, heart and lungs. Dozens of the countrys best doctors prolonged his life for three weeks with dialysis and a ventilator but he lost consciousness and stopped breathing on his own overnight before slipping into a coma today.

A statement issued by the Chief Presidential Doctor, Marjo Subiandono, said Suharto was declared dead at 1.10 pm local time (0610 GMT). Physicians did not try to revive him because his heart was too weak, said one of his doctors, Joko Raharjo, adding that all his children were at his bedside.

My father passed away peacefully, Suhartos eldest daughter, Tutut, said. May God bless him and forgive all of his mistakes and place him beside Allah.
The office of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced a week of national mourning for the countrys best son calling for flags to be flown at half-staff.

Seven air force planes are to accompany the body to the family mausoleum for a state funeral and burial.

Suharto, a United States Cold War ally, was toppled by massive street protests at the peak of the Asian financial crisis in 1998. His fall opened the way for democracy in this predominantly Muslim nation of 235 million people and he withdrew from public life, rarely venturing from his comfortable villa on a tree-lined lane in Jakarta.

The former president ruled with a totalitarian dominance that saw soldiers stationed in every village, instilling a deep fear of authority across this Southeast Asian nation of some 6,000 inhabited islands stretching across more than (4,825 kilometers) 3,000 miles.

Suharto was vilified as one of the worlds most brutal rulers and was accused of overseeing a graft-ridden rule. Poor health, and continuing corruption, critics claimed, kept him from court after he was chased from office.

The bulk of political killings blamed on Suharto occurred in the 1960s, soon after he seized power. In later years, about 300,000 people were slain, disappeared or jailed in the independence-minded regions of East Timor, Aceh and Papua, human rights groups and the United Nations say.

Suhartos successors as head of state, B.J. Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati Sukarnoputri and Yudhoyono, vowed to end corruption that took root under Suharto, yet it remains endemic at all levels in Indonesia. With the court system paralysed by corruption, the country has not confronted its bloody past.

Rather than put on trial those accused of mass murder and multibillion-dollar (euro) theft, some members of the political elite consistently called for charges against Suharto to be dropped on humanitarian grounds.

Suharto also oversaw decades of economic expansion that made Indonesia the envy of the developing world. Today, nearly a quarter of Indonesians live in poverty, and many long for the Suharto eras stability, when fuel and rice were

affordable. Critics say Suharto squandered Indonesias vast natural resources of oil, timber and gold, siphoning the nations wealth to benefit his cronies and family like a mafia don.

Like many Indonesians, Suharto used only one name. He was born on June 8, 1921, to a family of rice farmers in the village of Godean, in the dominant Indonesian province of Central Java.

When Indonesia gained independence from the Dutch in 1949, Suharto quickly rose through the ranks of the military to become a staff officer. His career nearly foundered in the late 1950s, when the armys then-commander, General Abdul Haris Nasution, accused him of corruption in awarding army contracts.

Absolute power came in September 1965 when the armys six top generals were murdered under mysterious circumstances and their bodies dumped in an abandoned well in an apparent coup attempt. Suharto, next in line for command, quickly asserted authority over the armed forces and promoted himself to four-star general.

Suharto then oversaw a nationwide purge of suspected communists and trade unionists, a campaign that stood as the regions bloodiest event since the Second World War until the Khmer Rouge established its gruesome regime in Cambodia a decade later. Experts put the number of deaths during the purge at between 500,000 and 1


Over the next year, Suharto eased out of office Indonesias first post-independence president, Sukarno, who died under house arrest in 1970. The legislature rubber-stamped Suhartos presidency and he was re-elected unopposed six times.

During the Cold War, Suharto was considered a reliable friend of Washington, which did not oppose his violent occupation of Papua in 1969 and the bloody 1974 invasion of East Timor. The latter, a former Portuguese colony, became Asias youngest country with a United Nations-sponsored plebiscite in 1999.

Even Suhartos critics agree his hard-line policies kept a lid on Indonesias extremists. He locked up without trial hundreds of suspected Islamic militants, some of whom later carried out deadly suicide bombings with the al-Qaeda-linked terror network Jemaah Islamiyah after the attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001.

The ruling clique that formed around Suharto, nicknamed the Berkeley mafia” after their American university, the University of California, Berkeley, transformed Indonesias economy and attracted billions of dollars in foreign investment.

By the late 1980s, Suharto was describing himself as Indonesias father of development, taking credit for slowly reducing the number of abjectly poor and modernising parts of the nation. The government became notorious for unfettered nepotism and Indonesia was regularly ranked as one of the worlds most corrupt nations as Suhartos inner circle amassed fabulous wealth.

The World Bank estimates 20 to 30 per cent of Indonesias development budget was embezzled during his rule. Even today, Suhartos children and ageing associates have considerable sway over the countrys business, politics and courts. Efforts to recover the money have been fruitless.

Suhartos youngest son, Hutomo Tommy” Mandala Putra, was released from prison in 2006 after serving a third of a 15-year sentence for ordering the assassination of a Supreme Court judge. Another son, Bambang Trihatmodjo, joined the Forbes list of wealthiest Indonesians in 2007, with US $200 million from his stake in the conglomerate Mediacom.

Suhartos economic policies, based on unsecured borrowing by his cronies, dramatically unraveled shortly before he was toppled in May 1998. Indonesia is still recovering from what economists called the worst economic meltdown anywhere in 50 years.

State prosecutors accused Suharto of embezzling about US $600 million via a complex web of foundations under his control but he never saw the inside of a courtroom. In September 2000, judges ruled he was too ill to stand trial, though many people believed the decision really stemmed from the lingering influence of the former dictator and his family.

In 2007, Suharto won a US $106 million defamation lawsuit against Time magazine for accusing the family of acquiring US $15 billion in stolen state funds. The former dictator told the news magazine Gatra in a rare interview in November 2007 that he would donate the bulk of any legal windfall to the needy, while he dismissed corruption accusations as empty talk.

Suhartos wife of 49 years, Indonesian royal Siti Hartinah, died in 1996. The couple had three sons and three daughters.

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