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Foreign power made me quit, says Suharto

Straits Times - January 28, 1999

Jakarta – Former President Suharto has, for the first time, revealed that he was forced to step down on May 21 because of pressures exerted by a foreign power, according to a report in the Indonesian-language Harian Terbit newspaper.

In the article, the afternoon daily cited a close aide who quoted Mr Suharto as saying that the combination of pressure and persuasion from the unnamed power came at a time when Indonesia needed economic help most.

"My downfall was because of foreign demands," the aide, Mr Zainal Maarif, quoted the former Indonesian leader as saying. He added that the foreign pressure was overpowering and that it had exerted its economic might to urge him to resign.

While the report did not name the foreign power, the former leader said that the foreign country had extensive interests in Indonesia, particularly in the economy. "The foreign power, according to Suharto, did not use weapons to bring him down but employed the use of economic weapons at a time when Indonesia was in dire need of foreign funding," Mr Zainal told Harian Terbit.

The paper said that Mr Suharto's comments were made when he met about 200 residents at a dialogue during Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations at the Kalitan palace, the residence of his late wife Siti Suhartinah Tien Suharto. At the session, the 77-year-old former President fielded a range of questions.

A resident asked: "Doesn't Suharto feel for the people who are now suffering amid endless unrest?" In reply, the paper quoted him as saying that he was aware of the plight of the Indonesians following his resignation.

On whether he was prepared to be punished, he was reported to have said that that he would let the people sentence him. "I am ready ... it is up to the Indonesians. And I have no intention to return to power," the paper quoted him as saying.

He also expressed regret over the unrest in the country. "How are we to to prosper when domestic stability is uncertain? National harmony can be achieved if the people are united so that Indonesia is assured of success and can make a quick recovery," he was reported to have said.

At the session, the former leader said he did not own the billions of US dollars in wealth as many in the country had claimed.

His plan to spend the holiday in his late wife's hometown had met with strong opposition. Some 100 residents and students protested near the Kalitan palace shortly after he and his family arrived.

More than 200 local residents turned up there on foot to join the prayers being held inside and outside the compound. Men, women and children were pushing one another to get in until they formed a queue to shake hands with the former leader.