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Indonesia Students Protest Slow Reforms

May 21, 2003

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ Indonesian police with water cannons drove back hundreds of students Wednesday protesting the slow pace of reform since the downfall of ex-dictator Suharto five years ago.

At its peak, the nighttime rally had about 400 demonstrators, some of whom tried to tear down the main gate to the tightly guarded Parliament in Jakarta.

Many Indonesians have used Wednesday’s anniversary to call for the resignation of President Megawati Sukarnoputri, complaining that she betrayed the spirit of democracy that led to Suharto’s ouster after 32 years in power.

Clashes in other cities between security forces and students also were reported.

``Mega and Hamzah have stained the ideal of reform that was born five years ago,″ said Daeng Sulaiman, referring to the president and her deputy, Hamzah Haz.

Sulaiman was one of around 500 students protesting outside the local parliament building in the eastern city of Makassar, where demonstrators also tried to break down the gate and were driven back by police, witnesses said. Five students were arrested.

Suharto was forced to step down May 21, 1998, after months of student protests that culminated in three days of riots and looting in which at least 1,200 people were killed.

Suharto’s deputy, B.J. Habibie, replaced him and quickly moved to free political prisoners, unshackle the press and reform the political system to allow for free elections. Still, the student movement saw him as a stooge of the old regime and staged daily, often violent, demonstrations urging his removal.

Megawati was elected in July 2001 but widespread corruption, an inept legal system and a struggling economy have dampened hopes for a better life for Indonesia’s 210 million people.

Suharto, along with his family members and business partners, allegedly stole millions from the country. Attempts to bring them to trial have been largely unsuccessful.

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