Mon, May 22, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Protesters demand former ruler Suharto stand trial


Protesters wearing Suharto masks and black capes yesterday demanded the ailing former dictator face trial, eight years after the man regarded as one of the most corrupt and brutal leaders in recent history was ousted amid massive pro-democracy protests.

Suharto remained in hospital following colon surgery two weeks ago to stem intestinal bleeding. Doctors said yesterday the 84-year-old, who has been weakened by several strokes, was recovering, but remained seriously ill.

Indonesia's attorney general last week dropped long-standing corruption charges against Suharto because of his health, angering rights activists but cheering his supporters, many of whom became rich during his 32-year rule and remain in powerful positions within the bureaucracy.

"The country is split," said Erry Harjapamengkas, deputy head of Indonesia's anti-corruption agency. "Some groups want him to be forgiven, while the younger generation wants to see him in court."

In Jakarta, around 200 protesters rallied outside the presidential palace carrying a man wearing a Suharto mask in a bamboo cage, one of several demonstrations in the country calling for the former army general to be punished.

"[President] Yudhoyono has to take a clear step on Suharto by putting him on trial and then returning the stolen money to the state," said Purnomo, a protester in Yogyakarta.

The country has had four presidents since Suharto's ouster on May 21, 1998, after months of nationwide pro-democracy protests and rioting, but none have been able to decide on what to do with the former dictator.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, himself an ex-army general who rose through the ranks during the Suharto years, has refused to take sides, saying on Saturday that the decision was up to law enforcement agencies.

Human-rights activists say Suharto should be charged in connection with at least 500,000 political killings.

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