Hundreds dead from Indonesian unrest
In this story:
1,000 rioters arrested; Suharto may juggle Cabinet
May 16, 1998
Web posted at: 11:07 p.m. EDT (0307 GMT)
JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- The magnitude of Indonesia's
political crisis was brought home late Saturday by a military
official who announced that the official death toll from
nearly a week of riotous protests had hit 500.
Calm was restored to the debris-strewn streets of Jakarta,
where 10,000 troops were keeping order. More than 1,000
rioters and looters had been arrested.
Armed Forces spokesman Gen. Wahab Mokodongan issued a
statement saying the death toll from the unrest and riots
that started Tuesday "topped 499." Most of those were looters
trapped in a series of horrifying shopping mall fires.
Jakarta Gov. Sutiyono said more than 3,000 buildings had been
attacked and nearly 1,500 vehicles wrecked during the
violence and looting. Most of the deaths occurred Friday when
four shopping centers were set on fire.
As the debris smoldered, friends and relatives of missing
people endured the gruesome task of .
Suharto again says he'll leave if people demand it
Meanwhile, as nationals of other countries continued to flee
Indonesia on Saturday, the man at the center of the storm,
President Suharto, hinted that he may reshuffle his Cabinet
-- a move not likely to mollify critics who have been calling
for dramatic political reform.
Suharto, 76, who has ruled Indonesia for 32 years, met
Saturday with university presidents and was quoted as saying
for the third time in a week that he's willing to leave the
presidency if the people demand it.
"Any time, if the people want me to step down, I am ready to
resign, as long it is conducted constitutionally," Budi
Santoso, the head of the University of Indonesia, quoted
Suharto as saying during the meeting.
However, skeptical critics say the constitutional method of
replacing the president could take months or more, because of
Suharto's control of the Indonesian political system.
"He's said the same thing for more than 30 years," said Arbi
Sanit, a political scientist at the University of Indonesia.
"In many ways, Suharto acts like a king who wants to die
Violence reported in other cities
A heavy military presence kept Jakarta quiet, providing a window for a continuing exodus from the capital
Legions of university students have taken to the streets in
dozens of protests over the last three months. But this week,
the mood of the demonstrations darkened when thousands of
urban poor -- hard hit by an economic crisis gripping
Indonesia -- began to riot.
In the wake of the violence, Suharto rolled back some of the
government-ordered price increases that had so inflamed them.
Even as the social unrest appeared to ease in the capital,
there were reports that demonstrations and rioting had spread
to other cities in the vast country of 200 million people.
In Bandung, 10,000 people gathered to denounce Suharto and
demand democracy. Troops stood by, watching the crowd.
The Jakarta Post reported that "a demonstration of thousands
of people degenerated into an orgy of large-scale rioting,
burning and looting" in Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest
city, on Friday.
Thousands of university students marched through the Surabaya
city center, at one point occupying the state-run radio
station and broadcasting their demands for political reform.
As has been the case throughout the week, some people,
believed to be non-students, attacked and looted a shopping
area. They also burned down the office of the only showroom
of the Timor car, the troubled automobile project run by one
of Suharto's sons.
The Jakarta Post also reported unrest in the major cities of
Bandar Lampung and Palembang on Friday.
Witnesses said there was widespread destruction in the
central Javanese city of Solo, after mobs swept through town
Friday. Stores in the university town of Yogyakarta were
closed Saturday; owners feared a return of violence there.
Nationals of other countries flee
U.N. officials, diplomats, international business executives and anxious Indonesians desperately seek a way out of the country
On Saturday, dozens of people lined up outside one major bank
that remained open in hopes of withdrawing their savings.
Angry mobs have targeted banks on their looting sprees.
Nationals of other countries were leaving the country in
droves. The United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and
Malaysia all sent in special flights to evacuate those who
wanted to leave. Some multinational companies chartered their
own flights to evacuate their employees.
Jakarta's main international airport was packed with people
awaiting commercial flights out of the country.
The military, known by the Indonesian acronym ABRI, tried to
stop the exodus with assurances Saturday that it had the
situation under control.
"For the international community, ABRI guarantees your
security and hopes that you will continue to be calm," said
Brig. Gen. Wahab Mokodongan in a written statement.
But some nationals of other countries said they feared the
angry mobs would soon turn on them.
"We all live in big glitzy houses, and the mobs were getting
closer every day," said a British evacuee bound for
Singapore. "They have burned half of the city already, and
sooner or later, they are going to go for the places the rich
Correspondent Mike Chinoy and Reuters contributed to this