Suharto orders action against looters
May 15, 1998
Web posted at: 1:26 a.m. EDT (0526 GMT)
JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Indonesian President Suharto, who returned home Friday to find his capital city in chaos, ordered his ministers to take action against rioters and looters who have devastated Jakarta, Information Minister Muhammad Alwi Dahlan said.
Witnesses and officials said on Friday that at least 110 people, most believed to be looters, were killed in a Jakarta shopping mall fire set by other rioters.
Rioting and looting began Tuesday has left plumes of thick smoke billowing across the Jakarta skyline, and there were unconfirmed reports that as many as 24 people, including four soldiers, had died in Thursday's violence.
Overnight, many people in the capital spent a nervous night
guarding their homes.
"I think everybody is awake in this neighborhood. Men stay
outside the houses to guard. Women are busy making coffee and
noodles for them," said Evelyn Siburian, who lives in a west
There were also reports of violent protests in other major
The violence prompted the United States to decide to evacuate
its nonessential embassy staff from Indonesia and to postpone
a visit by a top military team. Also, the U.S. State Department on Friday advised U.S. citizens to leave Jakarta.
In addition, U.S. companies such as Los Angeles-based
Atlantic Richfield Co., Virginia-based Mobil and Conoco, a
subsidiary of Delaware-based Dupont Co., announced plans to
evacuate employees and their families as soon as possible.
Suharto returns from Egypt
Amidst the unrest, Suharto, Asia's longest-serving leader,
cut short a state visit to Egypt and returned home. He was
greeted at the airport by Vice President Jusuf Habibie; Gen.
Wiranto, the armed forces chief; and other Cabinet members.
Suharto did not speak to reporters and, guarded by troops and
military vehicles, was driven straight to his residence in
On Thursday, the character of the protest movement shifted.
What started with student protests turned into a revolt of
the urban poor -- those worst hit by Indonesia's economic
crisis --who ransacked and looted shops and stores,
destroying what they couldn't carry away.
Questions arise over Suharto's military support
With the death toll rising, the armed forces -- the pillar of
Suharto's power -- deployed armored vehicles and thousands of
troops in a bid to restore order. But it remained far from
certain whether the show of force would work, either to quell
the unrest or blunt the challenge to Suharto's 32 years of
Soldiers exchange greetings and "high fives" with the crowd
Fueling speculation that Suharto's military support might be
eroding, soldiers and demonstrators mingled together in some
instances, chatting and laughing together. And Wiranto
himself made conciliatory comments, saying that "everything
the armed forces does is concerned with how we and others can
hold a dialogue for the sake of reform."
However, sending a different signal, Maj. Gen. Syafrie
Syamsudin, Jakarta's military commander, issued a stern
warning in a speech to his troops that was broadcast on local
"We must face rioters and looters firmly. We are soldiers who
will support the nation, and we will never surrender,"
Ethnic Chinese a major target
Frightened residents complained that the military failed to
stop mobs rampaging through many parts of the city. In some
places, the crowds cheered the troops and clambered aboard
their vehicles as soldiers stood by.
A man marks his shop as being owned by a native Indonesian -- in an effort to keep it from being burned or looted
A particular target was the ethnic Chinese community, which
makes up only about 5 percent of the Indonesian population
but is economically prosperous and has become a scapegoat
during the economic unrest.
"Jakarta is on fire. We'll go anywhere," said Saiumei Wen, a
27-year-old ethnic Chinese woman trying to by plane tickets
for her family.
The house of Indonesia's richest man, Liem Soei Liong, an
ethnic Chinese billionaire with close links to Suharto, was
trashed and burned.
The official Antara news agency said police had arrested at
least 500 looters during the riots.
Correspondent Mike Chinoy and Reuters contributed to this report.