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Is President Suharto preparing to resign?

Amein Rais
Rais speaks to student demonstrators gathered at the parliament complex  

Indonesian leader silent as pressure mounts

May 20, 1998
Web posted at: 8:17 p.m. EDT (0017 GMT)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- As pressure continued to build on Indonesian President Suharto to resign, a key opposition politician said he was informed by a government source that the leader will announce his departure on Thursday.

"This is what I heard. I could be misled by this news, you know, but I believe Suharto's days are numbered," opposition leader Amien Rais said. "I think he is counting his days."

"I think the nation will be happy, will be relieved, because Suharto is the problem. So by getting rid of him, I think the nation ... will feel, you know, gratified, satisfied, happy," Rais said. "From then on, we can talk about economic reforms, political reforms."

It was not immediately clear how good Rais' information might be. The embattled president remained silent Wednesday. In a nationwide address Tuesday, he said he would call new elections for president and would not be a candidate, but he did not say when the voting would take place.

Kompas newspaper also reported it was likely Suharto would step down Thursday, after announcing a new Cabinet to reform Indonesia's political system and setting up a transitional government headed by Vice President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie.

Kompas reported that as many as 11 Cabinet ministers already had tendered their resignations.

Earlier, lawmakers from Suharto's own Golkar Party called on him to submit his resignation to a proposed special assembly on June 8. Golkar dominates the 500-member parliament.

Indonesia graphic

Chronology of Suharto's rule

Photos from the areas affected by riots

U.S. military has sparse ties with Indonesia

Large Map of Indonesia

Message board: Indonesia unrest

Time Magazine's Closer Look: Indonesia's Killing Fields

TIME: Indonesia Photo Essay

Speaker sets Friday deadline

In a dramatic turn Wednesday, the speaker of the Indonesian parliament, Harmoko, said if Suharto does not step down by Friday, he will convene the People's Consultative Assembly, which has the power to name a new president and vice president.

Harmoko met with student protesters Wednesday, throwing his support behind their effort to force Suharto from power. Students who attended the meeting told CNN that Harmoko would call the assembly session for Monday if Suharto refuses to resign voluntarily.

Under the Indonesian constitution, only the president and the speaker of parliament can call the consultative assembly into session. Picking a new president and vice president is a process that would take about 10 days to complete.

However, it remains unclear how such a move might be received by Indonesia's military leaders, who so far have continued to support Suharto.

Students take over parliment building
Students take over parliment building
Students take over parliment building
Student protesters occupy the marble parliament buildings Wednesday for a third day  

Fears of crackdown scuttle giant protest

A protest planned Wednesday in the capital of Jakarta, which was expected to draw up to 1 million people, was called off because of fears of a military crackdown. However, an estimated 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.

The students have vowed to continue to occupy the parliament compound until Suharto leaves.

Anti-Suharto protests also 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 have grown angrier and bolder in the past week. And as pandemonium replaced politics, some sober student officials have begun to worry about a backlash by the military.

"We do not want to provoke a frontal confrontation between the students and the military because if that happens, the whole society loses because it would only lead to more anarchical violence," said Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a political analyst.

Others, however, were more defiant.

"I'm not worried that the army will crack down," said one protester. "We are not afraid."

"We are going to stay here until Suharto goes," said protester Airino Thamrin.

Correspondents Mike Chinoy and Maria Ressa contributed to this report.

 
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