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Protestors paid to stage pro-suharto demo

Associated Press - February 17, 1999

Jakarta – About 500 people rallied outside the attorney general's office Wednesday in a protest against a corruption investigation of former President Suharto.

The protesters said Suharto, who quit last May amid riots and protests against his authoritarian rule, was innocent and had been framed by his opponents. Suharto, 77, has denied any wrongdoing.

State prosecutors are investigating allegations that Suharto enriched his family and associates at state expense during 32 years in power. They have lost some of their wealth and influence because of Indonesia's economic crisis and the new government's efforts to curb graft.

Student protesters who helped oust Suharto staged noisy demonstrations last year to demand an immediate trial of the ex-army general. They said his successor and onetime protege, President B.J. Habibie, was too beholden to Suharto to conduct a serious probe.

The pro-Suharto protesters, many of them from poor neighborhoods in Jakarta, waved banners and chanted slogans while four truckloads of anti-riot officers looked on. The rally was peaceful.

Some of the demonstrators said organizers rounded them up with buses and told them they would be paid 15,000 rupiah to participate.

Organizer Abu Aufan, a neighborhood youth leader, said the government should be clear about whether it plans to prosecute Suharto or not.

"We demand that the attorney general's office make an announcement about the Suharto case on whether he should be punished or not," said Aufan, who organized a similar protest at the office earlier this month.

The investigation of Suharto started five months ago, but no charges have been filed. Habibie has said he wants the investigation to be finished before parliamentary elections on June 7.