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Calm Restored, But Unease Remains

August 21, 1996

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ The streets outside the ransacked opposition headquarters are closed, guarded by soldiers who spend hot afternoons smoking and cleaning their rifles.

Hundreds of other troops guard office buildings downtown, enforcing peace in the Indonesian capital after a police raid last month sparked riots that killed four people.

While the government has quieted the streets, it has done little to address the causes of the public’s anger _ frustration at poverty and the autocratic rule of President Suharto, a former general in power since 1966.

The economy was one of Suharto’s key successes; during his rule, the nation rose from the brink of famine to a per capita annual income of $1,000.

But despite a spectacular 7 percent growth rate, the benefits flow disproportionately to a handful of tycoons close to Suharto _ and increasingly, to his children.

During the protests of July 27, rioters targeted banks, state offices and businesses owned by some of Suharto’s wealthiest associates, leaving 22 buildings gutted by fire.

``Maybe they have no other means to express their anger and frustration,″ said Enci Novi, the 45-year-old owner of a gold shop who watched rioters set a bank on fire in front of her home.

Suharto, however, has refused to address that anger, blaming the protests on a tiny leftist political party and rejecting any compromise with pro-democracy forces.

``Let us respect the national consensus,″ the 75-year-old president said in a speech Friday to parliament. ``Let us not tinker with it just for the sake of fulfilling the ambition of individuals.″

Suharto’s resistance to change has fed uncertainty that could hurt Indonesia’s economy. No company has announced plans to pull out of Indonesia, but investors appear to be waiting to make new commitments.

``The foreign investors like to ask whether this is going to happen again next time, or what about the health of the president, or what will happen during elections in 1997,″ said Sofyan Wanandi, president of the giant Gemala Group conglomerate.

U.S. officials, speaking in Washington on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday that the Clinton administration is reconsidering whether to sell Indonesia at least nine F-16 jet fighters because of the government’s harsh response to opposition.

Indonesia’s problem, according to Sjahrir, an economist who like many Indonesians uses only one name, is that ``while our economy is going global, our politics is still in the era of `Jurassic Park.‴

The violence erupted July 27 after security forces broke up a sit-in by supporters of pro-democracy leader Megawati Sukarnoputri. They were protesting government efforts to remove her as head of the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party.

Megawati is the daughter of the late President Sukarno _ who founded independent Indonesia and whose picture still hangs in millions of Indonesian homes.

Suharto, who overthrew Sukarno in 1966, apparently is afraid that Megawati’s growing following _ especially among her father’s admirers _ could threaten his government.

Police have filed subversion charges against a 27-year-old radical leader accused of inciting the violence, but Megawati says they have failed to show he had any connection with her.

Thirty-three others are under arrest, and prosecutors say they plan to try an additional 124 people on riot-related charges.

Megawati has been lying low, focusing on a lawsuit in which she alleges that the government illegally ousted her as party leader in June.

There is no sign that her followers will try to recapture the party headquarters, but the soldiers don’t appear ready to leave the vacant building either.

Meanwhile, residents of Jakarta adapt to the enforced calm.

``The closure of the road makes our life difficult,″ said Ati, who lives across the street from the party headquarters. ``We are always watched, and our relatives and friends are reluctant to visit us because they don’t want to be questioned by soldiers.″

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