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Suharto Trial Urged To Continue

September 1, 2000

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ President Abdurrahman Wahid insisted Friday that the unprecedented corruption trial of Suharto must proceed, despite the former dictator’s absence from court.

Apparently trying to persuade Suharto to cooperate with prosecutors, Wahid repeated an earlier promise of clemency if Suharto returns any ill-gotten wealth.

``The trial must go on,″ Wahid said. ``The judge will rule whether he is innocent or not.″

Suharto, 79, did not attend the opening of his trial Thursday after his doctors said he was seriously ill and might suffer another stroke if forced to endure a lengthy trial.

The prosecution of Indonesia’s former dictator is regarded as key to Wahid’s promise to clean up corruption.

Suharto is charged with taking $583 million in state funds to bankroll businesses for his children and cronies. He could be imprisoned for life if convicted. He has denied any wrongdoing or that he has stashed a fortune away in foreign bank accounts.

``If proven guilty, Suharto must be punished. But the president will pardon him on condition he returns all of the wealth he illegally collected during his presidency,″ Wahid said.

Doctors say three strokes have damaged Suharto’s brain. He also has diabetes, kidney and heart problems. His lawyers said he cannot answer questions properly and has trouble remembering details.

A five-judge panel adjourned the trial until Sept. 14 after prosecutors said they wanted an independent medical team to assess Suharto’s condition. They maintain earlier medical tests by state physicians showed Suharto fit to stand trial.

Suharto ruled Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation, for 32 years before student protests and riots forced him out in disgrace in May 1998.

His failure to take part in the trial has cast doubts on whether he will ever face justice.

Anti-Suharto activists, meanwhile, complain that the charges against him are too narrow. They maintain that he stole billions, not millions, of dollars and say he also should be charged with human rights violations.

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