Indonesian president threatens crackdown Habibie faults subversives as riots, protests continue

November 15, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Faced with a huge student protest and a wild outbreak of rioting and arson, President B. J. Habibie said yesterday that he would take "firm action" to curb what he called subversive movements that threaten the country's stability.

On the day after soldiers killed at least eight demonstrators and wounded more than 100 others, tens of thousands of students and poor people filled a highway yesterday in front of the parliament building in what seemed to be an unfocused and unguided outpouring of discontent.

Their protests were supported by an unlikely ally: former President Suharto.

"I resigned from my position to avoid bloodshed," Suharto was quoted by his half-brother, Probosutedjo, as saying. "Why does the government now cause bloodshed?"

He said Habibie's government should apologize and listen to the demands of the protesters.

Later yesterday, in an echo of the riots that helped shake Suharto from office in May, residents of poor neighborhoods attacked shopping malls, banks, car dealerships, police stations and Chinese-owned shops in a surge of looting and vandalism.

One police officer was reported to have been beaten to death.

But in contrast with the riots six months ago, troops and fire engines took action to quell the riots and douse the flames. Their ability to bring the first outbreaks of violence under control yesterday appeared to confirm suspicions that the earlier riots had been allowed and even instigated by elements of the military.

In a statement to the nation, Habibie took a tough line against the demonstrators who had protested against a parliamentary session he had organized last week and had called for his resignation.

In a response that recalled the attitudes of his mentor, Suharto, he said the protests had revealed the presence of "subversive movements and actions that are endangering the unity and cohesion and the fundamentals of the life of the nation and state."

He said he had ordered the military to "immediately take firm action."

Soon afterward, the governor of Jakarta, Sutiyoso, announced a curfew over the weekend for the capital city from 10 p.m. until dawn.

A Western diplomat said it was unclear what groups Habibie might have in mind, or whether he or his military advisers were using accusations of subversion, as Suharto did, as an excuse for a crackdown.

Throughout the day yesterday, the military calmed the growing crowds of demonstrators with a tactfulness that contrasted with the sheer rage the soldiers had exhibited when they gunned down students Friday night.

The key element, Indonesians said, was that most of the crowd control was handed over yesterday to the marines, a seasoned force that enjoys unique respect among the people.

"Hooray for the marines," the students shouted yesterday morning, along with, "Down with Habibie."

The crowd of students and supporters swelled to as many as 50,000 during the day and was permitted to fill a highway outside the front gates of the now-empty parliament building.

They sang and chanted into the night as the marines stood guard between them and the gates.

Pub Date: 11/15/98

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