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Habibie becomes president after Suharto resigns

Suharto resigns  

Indonesian military pledges to support change

May 20, 1998
Web posted at: 11:15 p.m. EDT (0315 GMT)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Bowing to the will of his increasingly angry people, a tired and drawn Indonesian President Suharto resigned Thursday, bringing 32 years of authoritarian rule to a sudden and dramatic end.

"I believe that it has become has become extremely difficult for me to continue the leadership of this country and to cultivate the development of our country," Suharto said, announcing what he termed his "withdrawal" from the presidency in an address to the nation at 9 a.m. Thursday (0200 GMT).

"[I] express my deepest sorrow if there were mistakes, failures or shortcomings," he said in a halting voice.

Vice President Bucharuddin Jusuf Habibie was immediately sworn in as president of the fourth most-populous country in the world. Suharto said Habibie would not be a caretaker but would finish the rest of his presidential term, which lasts until 2003.

Immediately after Habibie was sworn in, Gen. Wiranto, the defense minister and head of the military, made a statement in which he endorsed the leadership transition. He also cautioned Indonesians to "avoid any unrest."

Protesters camped out in parliament

Habibie is sworn in as president  

Suharto made his exit as student protesters camped out in protest at Indonesia's parliament compound, and after the speaker of the parliament threatened to remove him from office if he didn't leave on his own.

The president's political position unraveled quickly. His resignation came just a week after violent riots claimed at least 500 lives in Jakarta, forcing the military to send in tanks and troops to keep order.

The speaker of the Indonesian parliament, Harmoko, announced Wednesday that if the president did not step down by Friday, he would convene the People's Consultative Assembly, which has the power to name a new president and vice president.

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Indonesia has been buffeted by an economic crisis that eroded support for Suharto and triggered a series of protests by university students. Last week, those protests spread to the urban poor, who were hard hit by price increases imposed by the government to deal with the economic woes.

In his resignation speech, Suharto said he had "followed with great care" the recent events in Indonesia, "especially the aspirations of our people to institute reforms across the board, across all aspects of our life and our nation."

In response, Suharto said he had called for a reshuffling of his Cabinet and the establishment of a reform committee. But he said there was a lack of consensus on how to form the committee, which led him to a decision to abandon the Cabinet changes and, instead, leave his post as Indonesian leader, which he has held since 1965.

Confrontation avoided Wednesday

Jakarta awakens to a new political day  

A possible confrontation between protesters and the military that some feared might turn into a bloodbath Wednesday was averted when a protest in Jakarta, expected to draw up to 1 million people, was called off. However, about 10,000 students lined the rooftop and grounds of the parliament building, chanting and waving banners calling for Suharto to go.

Students danced in the main assembly hall, where parliamentary legislators had routinely rubber-stamped laws for Suharto. Some broke into offices, folding official papers into paper airplanes and sailing them off balconies.

Students said prayers over Suharto's effigy before symbolically hanging the only president their generation has ever known.

In a behind-the-scenes deal, the military, which moved troops -- allegedly with orders to shoot -- into the center of Jakarta and set up barriers, agreed to leave the students alone as long as they stayed on the parliament grounds and off the streets.

But anti-Suharto protests erupted in at least six other cities and towns. In Suharto's hometown of Yoygakarta, police estimated the turnout at 250,000. Some witnesses claimed the actual crowd was twice the official estimate.

Protests in Indonesia grew angrier and bolder in the past week. And as pandemonium replaced politics, some sober student officials began to worry about a backlash by the military, which had backed Suharto's rule.

Correspondents Mike Chinoy and Maria Ressa contributed to this report.


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