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Suharto Threatens Protesters

May 9, 1998

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ President Suharto threatened today to use his army and police to crush protests against his three-decade rule and growing economic hardships. Clashes between police and students claimed their first fatality.

Suharto left the country for a summit of developing countries in Cairo, Egypt, refusing to let an uprising that has spread from students to the general public deter what will be a one-week trip abroad.

He delivered an appeal, and a warning, before going.

``I hope the people of Indonesia will not sacrifice the national stability that we have achieved. The security forces will take action against whoever disturbs and ruins national stability,″ said the 76-year-old former general, Asia’s longest-serving leader.

But protests continued. Hours after Suharto’s departure, police scuffled with 100 students who marched onto a Jakarta highway and blocked traffic while shouting, ``Reform!″

``It’s time for the end of the Suharto era,″ said one student, 21-year-old Sulaiman Haikal.

Officers used their riot shields to shove the demonstrators into an alley.

In Yogyakarta, 260 miles east of Jakarta, rows of riot police stood by while 500 students marched off a university campus and into the streets. At an Islamic institute, about 300 students hurled rocks at riot police, who responded with baton charges and beat several demonstrators.

Witnesses said at least five people were taken away. Water cannon were deployed in front of the institute during the skirmish. A rock-throwing student protest was also reported in the city of Bandung.

A 41-year-old businessman became the first fatality of the increasingly confrontational student protests, caught between riot officers and demonstrators in Yogyakarta on Friday.

The Legal Aid Society said the man died of head injuries after a police clubbing. Authorities said the circumstances of his death were unclear.

The unrest in the nation of 200 million people is the worst in decades, generated by frustration with Suharto’s long rule and the Asian economic crisis that has hit Indonesia harder than any other country. This week, fuel subsidy cuts that raised gas prices by 71 percent triggered rioting in the nation’s third-largest city, Medan.

In another sign of growing unease, Suharto’s normally docile parliament demanded Friday that the energy minister resign and that the subsidy cuts be revoked.

The deputy speaker of the house of representatives, Lt. Gen. Syarwan Hamid, noted austerity measures had failed to salvage the economy and said the nation was on the verge of collapse.

``If it continues going down, it will lead to our destruction,″ he said.

In Washington, the International Monetary Fund praised the government for braving the unrest. The IMF has demanded an end to the subsidies as part of economic reforms demanded in a $43 billion bailout of the country.

``They’ve been very firm in carrying out the program,″ IMF First Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer said after meeting Finance Minister Fuad Buwazir. ``There hasn’t been any request to change the program on their part.″

In the northern city of Medan, scene of violent rioting earlier this week that left two dead, troops patrolled the streets but many shops remained closed.

The ethnic Chinese shopowners, traditional scapegoats in times of hardship, fled the city or were in hiding after being targeted by mobs. With their shops closed, flour, sugar and cooking oil were getting harder to find.

``It’s a little bit hard to find necessities like sugar,″ said Sulinsyah, 45, a mother of five. ``There’s a scarcity.″

Indonesian newspapers reported that two people were killed in unrest Friday in two towns near Medan. In Surakarta, a center of batik production, 120 protesters were admitted to hospitals for injuries after clashes with security forces.

Doctors, nurses, government employees and bus drivers joined the demonstrations, scattered in cities across the Indonesian archipelago.

In a move unlikely to appease demonstrators, the ruling Golkar party proposed a two-term limit Friday for future presidents _ to take effect after Suharto’s seventh five-year term expires in 2003.

In Washington, the Pentagon said it was pulling out 17 U.S. troop trainers from Indonesia and halting an exercise because of the unrest.