Monday, February 4, 2008

ST - Suharto dies

Suharto dies
Indonesia 'has lost one of the nation's best sons'
By Azhar Ghani, Indonesia Bureau Chief

JAKARTA - INDONESIA yesterday lost former president Suharto - a man its current leader described as 'one of the nation's best sons'.

At 1.10pm local time, 86-year-old Suharto died at the Pertamina Hospital, where he had been warded since Jan 4 with heart, kidney and lung problems.

On the day he was admitted, Mr Suharto could, with some support, still walk a few steps from his car to a wheelchair. But his condition fluctuated daily, before worsening dramatically on Jan 11, when he was connected to a ventilator to stay alive.

Despite showing signs of rallying in recent days, his condition took a sudden and eventually fatal turn at about 1am yesterday.
By about 7am, he was unconscious, and he lapsed into a deep coma at around 11am.

News of his death ended days of suspense as the country held its collective breath and wondered if its former leader would live or die.

It came four months shy of May 21, which would have marked a full decade after Mr Suharto resigned following a pro-democracy uprising, protests and violent riots prompted by an economic crisis.

Mr Suharto's three sons and three daughters were by his bed when he died, and his teary-eyed eldest daughter Siti Hardianti Rukmana told reporters: 'Father has returned to God.

'We ask that if he had any faults, please forgive them...may he be absolved of all his mistakes.'

Addressing the country at a press conference yesterday, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed his sorrow, and asked people to pray for the late strongman.

He said: 'I would like to call on the people of Indonesia to show the highest respect to one of the nation's best sons, a great leader of the nation who has contributed so much service and dedication to the nation and the state.'

Dr Yudhoyono also declared seven days of mourning, until Feb 2, and ordered all flags to fly at half-mast.

Together with Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, he later visited the Suharto family residence in the leafy suburb of Menteng, where the body of the former president was taken for the night.

The body is scheduled to be flown to central Java this morning, where Mr Suharto will be buried at the family mausoleum near Solo in a ceremony to be led by Dr Yudhoyono later today.

A spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who said the Republic was saddened by news of the passing, disclosed that Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar would be attending the burial ceremony in Solo.

Yesterday, Mr Suharto's central Jakarta home saw a stream of visitors paying their last respects, including Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who arrived at about 8.15pm local time.

Mr Lee said: 'Pak Suharto was a patriot who loved his country deeply. Under his leadership, Indonesia made tremendous progress. In regional affairs, Pak Suharto's leadership, vision and statesmanship enabled all Asean countries to grow and prosper in peace, and made Asean a respected player in the Asia-Pacific.'

Besides the Prime Minister, several other Singapore leaders, including President SR Nathan and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, yesterday sent condolence messages to President Yudhoyono as well as to Ms Siti Hardianti.

Tributes to the former president also flooded in from across the region and beyond.

Among them, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo pointed to his central role in establishing Asean, while Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi praised his efforts in establishing good bilateral relations.

Back in Indonesia, television stations suspended some of their regular programmes and began telecasts of events related to Mr Suharto's death as well as retrospectives of his life.

Mr Suharto is credited with maintaining stability and the healthy economic growth of the country in the 1980s and early 1990s.

But with residual grievances still strong against the former president for the rampant corruption and human rights abuses he was accused of presiding over, the grief of Indonesians was restrained.

A conciliatory tone crept into the nation's consciousness after Mr Suharto was admitted to hospital, when even those who had suffered human rights abuses under his rule had talked of forgiveness, but the demands for justice never went away.

Mr Budiman Sudjatmiko, a former pro-democracy student activist who had been jailed before Mr Suharto stepped down in 1998, summed up the mood.

He said it would be 'hard' for Indonesia to move on since Mr Suharto had not been prosecuted for corruption.

A book of condolence will be opened at Indonesia's Singapore Embassy in Chatsworth Road between 10am and 4pm from today until Wednesday.

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