Former dictator Suharto dead

   

Indonesia's former president Suharto, whose legacy of economic development was marred by graft and human rights abuses during his 32 years in power, died on Sunday, aged 86, after suffering multiple organ failure.

 

"I invite all the people of Indonesia to pray that may the deceased's good deeds and dedication to the nation be accepted by Allah the almighty. And to the family who are left behind, may Allah give them strength to face this trial," President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in a statement.

 

"Mr Suharto has done a great service to the nation."

 

Suharto had been in critical condition in hospital since January 4. Despite his humiliating overthrow in 1998, many of the region's leaders and Indonesia's elite rushed to his bedside to pay their respects as he lay dying.

 

Singapore's former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Malaysia's former leader Mahathir Mohamad flew to Jakarta, paying tribute to Suharto's role in bringing stability to the region.

 

Suharto's sudden illness prompted many ordinary Indonesians across the archipelago to debate his legacy and question whether he should be pardoned or whether legal proceedings against him for graft should continue.

 

"The civil suit must be suspended because we are in no position to represent Mr Suharto because he has passed away. And now the prosecutors must deal with the family to sort it out," said Mohammad Assegaf, one of Suharto's lawyers.

 

ECONOMIC, SOCIAL CHAOS

 

Suharto rose to power after he led the military in 1965 against what was officially called an attempted communist coup. Up to 500,000 people were killed in an anti-communist purge in the months that followed.

 

Over the next three decades, Suharto's armed forces committed numerous human rights abuses, killing student activists, criminals, and opponents to the regime in the rebellious provinces of Aceh and Papua, as well as in East Timor, which Indonesia invaded in 1975.

 

He was forced to step down in 1998 as the Asian financial crisis sparked economic and social chaos, leading to calls for greater democracy.

 

By the time Suharto was forced to resign, he and his family and associates had permeated nearly every sector of Indonesia's economy. They owned airlines, hotels, toll roads, TV and radio stations, and provided the gateway for any foreigner who wanted to do business there.

 

"Former President Suharto was one of the longest-serving heads of government of the last century and an influential figure in Australia's region and beyond," Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said in a statement.

 

"The former president was also a controversial figure in respect of human rights and East Timor and many have disagreed with his approach," he added.

 

Critics say Suharto and his family amassed as much as $45 billion in kickbacks or deals where political influence was key to who won a contract.

 

Transparency International put Suharto's assets at $15-$35 billion, or as much as 1.3 per cent of gross domestic product.

 

His family have denied any wrongdoing and Suharto had always maintained his innocence.

 

After he quit office, Suharto was charged with embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds, but the government later dropped the case because of his poor health.

 

Last year, state prosecutors filed a civil suit seeking $440 million of state funds and a further $1 billion in damages for the alleged misuse of money held by one of Suharto's charitable foundations.

 

While some Indonesians look back on the Suharto era with nostalgia, others have called for the former general and his family to be brought to justice.

 

"I suggest Suharto's family to openly apologise to all the people of Indonesia via a press conference for all the wrongdoings committed by Suharto," said Soehardjo, a letter-writer to the newspaper Kompas. (Reuters)

 
 
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