January 27, 2008 / 3:48 AM / 11 years ago

Indonesia's former president Suharto dies

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s former president Suharto, whose legacy of economic development was marred by graft and human rights abuses during his 32 years in power, died on Sunday, aged 86, after suffering multiple organ failure.

Former Indonesian President Suharto stands in his room at the presidential palace in Jakarta a day before he stepped down after 32 years in power, May 19,1998. Police said on January 27, 2008 that Suharto has died. REUTERS/Enny Nuraheni

“I invite all the people of Indonesia to pray that may the deceased’s good deeds and dedication to the nation be accepted by Allah the almighty. And to the family who are left behind, may Allah give them strength to face this trial,” President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in a statement.

“Mr Suharto has done a great service to the nation.”

Suharto had been in critical condition in hospital since January 4. Despite his humiliating overthrow in 1998, many of the region’s leaders and Indonesia’s elite had rushed to his bedside to pay their respects as he lay dying.

Singapore’s former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Malaysia’s former leader Mahathir Mohamad flew to Jakarta to see him, paying tribute to Suharto’s role in bringing stability to the region, particularly during the Cold War period.

But Suharto’s sudden illness also prompted many ordinary Indonesians across the archipelago to debate his legacy.

Some argued he should be pardoned, while others urged the state to press ahead with a civil suit against him for graft and to consider legal proceedings for human rights abuses.

“The civil suit must be suspended ... and now the prosecutors must deal with the family to sort it out,” said Mohammad Assegaf, one of Suharto’s lawyers.

A spokesman for the Attorney-General’s office said it was not appropriate to discuss the matter given Suharto’s death.

Indonesia ordered flags to be flown at half mast and declared a seven-day mourning period.

MIXED FEELINGS

While some Indonesians look back on the Suharto era with nostalgia, others have called for the former general and his family to be brought to justice.

“There are many people, thousands of people who lost their parents, their fathers, their mothers, and I think they need justice,” Usman Hamid of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violance (Kontras), told Reuters Television.

Members of Suharto’s family had gathered at the Pertamina hospital in Jakarta where he was being treated after his health deteriorated suddenly.

“We, the whole family, thank everyone who has prayed for our father,” said Suharto’s eldest daughter Siti Hadijanti Rukmana, also known as Tutut, sobbing during a news conference.

Officials said Suharto’s body would be taken to Java’s royal city of Solo on Monday for the funeral. The Suharto family mausoleum is about 35 km (21 miles) northeast of Solo.

Mardjo Soebiandono, head of the medical team who had treated Suharto, told the news conference Suharto had “peacefully passed away” at 13.10 (0610 GMT).

Another of the medical team, Djoko Rahardjo, told Reuters Suharto’s last word while conscious had been “Amin” (Amen) after prayers had been said in his room on Saturday night.

Suharto’s body was taken by ambulance from the hospital to his house in Jakarta’s leafy Menteng district, where hundreds of people had gathered. Several women burst into tears when the ambulance arrived. Some clung to the fence or tried to touch the ambulance as it passed through the gate.

“I always remember him and all the great things he did for this nation. I remember back in the Suharto days things were much better,” sobbed Helmi, a 53-year-old housewife.

Yudhoyono and his wife, former ministers and religious leaders came to pay their respects, as did Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

ECONOMIC, SOCIAL CHAOS

Suharto rose to power after he led the military in 1965 against what was officially called an attempted communist coup. Up to 500,000 people were killed in an anti-communist purge in the months that followed.

Over the next three decades, Suharto’s armed forces committed numerous human rights abuses, killing student activists, criminals and opponents of the regime in the rebellious provinces of Aceh and Papua, as well as in East Timor, which Indonesia invaded in 1975.

He was forced to step down in 1998 as the Asian financial crisis sparked economic and social chaos, leading to calls for greater democracy.

By the time Suharto had resigned, he and his family and associates had permeated nearly every sector of Indonesia’s economy. They owned airlines, hotels, toll roads, TV and radio stations, and provided the gateway for any foreigner who wanted to do business there.

Critics say Suharto and his family amassed as much as $45 billion in kickbacks or deals where political influence was key to who won a contract.

Transparency International put Suharto’s assets at $15-$35 billion, or as much as 1.3 percent of gross domestic product.

Slideshow (36 Images)

His family have denied any wrongdoing and Suharto had always maintained his innocence.

After he quit office, Suharto was charged with embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds, but the government later dropped the case because of his poor health.

Last year, state prosecutors filed a civil suit seeking $440 million of state funds and a further $1 billion in damages for the alleged misuse of money held by one of Suharto’s charitable foundations.

Additional reporting by Ahmad Pathoni, Ade Mardiyati, Muklis Ali, Sunanda Creagh and Adhityani Arga in Jakarta, and Michael Perry in Sydney; Writing by Sara Webb, Editing by Sugita Katyal and Ed Davies

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