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Indonesian students call for Suharto's death

Deutsche Presse Agentur - May 8, 1998

Defiant Indonesian students called for the execution of President Suharto Friday as police and soldiers cracked down on the escalating nationwide protests with baton charges and hails of rubber bullets.

In the central Java city of Solo, 650 kilometres southeast of Jakarta, an estimated of 5,000 university and high school students joined with labourers and clashed with security forces in a running battle that left at least 130 people injured.

In the capital, about 500 students staged a rally at the Teachers Training Institute campus in East Jakarta, burning an effigy of Suharto and blaming the embattled leader for the economic crisis battering the nation.

In the protest, the students staged a mock trial in which an "Extraordinary People's Court" accused Suharto of mass murder and wholesale corruption through his family's many bus inesses.

In the trial drama the students charged Suharto with killing as many as 1.5 million people during his rise to power in 1965-1966, in East Timor in 1975, in the so-called mysterious killings of 1983 and in the Tanjung Priok rioting of 1984. The students pronounced Suharto guilty and sentenced him to death.

Jakarta-based diplomats said the mock trial marked an extraordinary escalation in the tone of anti-government protestors, who have in the past showed a degree of respect for the 76-year-old leader.

In the North Sumatra capital, Medan, several days of rioting and looting appeared to be subsiding in the face of an overwhelming response by security forces, but sporadic attacks on shops and vehicles continued on the outskirts of the city and business activity came to a standstill throughout Friday.

Army troops, with orders to shoot rioters on sight, patrolled the streets, which were littered Friday with debris from ransacked buildings and the shells of burnt-out cars. Many other troops were deployed to guard the city's business district.

At least six people reportedly were burnt to death by mobs or killed by police bullets this week and scroes were injured, many by gunshot wounds.

The disturbances broke out on Monday, hours after the government announced sharp fuel and electricity prise hikes, in line with economic reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund. In the ensuing rampage, some 170 shops were destroyed or looted and burned in Medan while 38 cars and 21 motorcycles were also set ablaze, North Sumatra police said.

Mobs targetted ethnic Chinese shop owners, many of whom barricaded their shops and banded together in a central Medan hotel or even fled to Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.

Chinese, who account for only 3 per cent of Indonesia's 202 million people, dominate the commerce sector and have long been the targets of discrimination that occasionally erupts into violence.

Authorities quelled the riots when five military companies of the Strategic Command of the Army (Kostrad) headquarters in Jakarta were deployed to Medan, 1,300 kilometres northwest of Jakarta.

In Pematang Siantar, 139 kilometres southeast of Medan, and in Tebing Tinggi, about 40 kilometers from north Sumatran capital, calm was restored Friday after days of mayhem, but all shops remained closed.

Calm was also restored in Padang, the capital of West Sumatra, a day after thousands of protesters went on a rampage, looting shops and attacking banks and government buildings, officials and local residents said.

Student protests went on in several other parts of the country, despite a tough warning on Thursday by General Wiranto, chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces, combined with stern measures by police.

The protests notched up the pressure on Suharto, who was scheduled to leave Indonesia on Saturday for a five-day state visit to Egypt.