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Jan 28, 2008

In death, Suharto cheats justice

The ex-dictator’s deathbed saga finally ends in Indonesia

AP - FOR weeks, Indonesia’s former dictator, General Suharto, had been lingering on his deathbed in a hospital in Jakarta, attended by a team of doctors and a scrum of reporters. Some of the country’s 226m people, meanwhile, debated his legacy: was he a nation-builder or a plunderer of the nation’s wealth? A bringer of stability or a murderous destroyer of liberty? As his life ebbed away, the enigmatic ex-soldier who had ruled with a rod of iron for 32 years until 1998 was visited by two fellow retired autocrats—Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamed and Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew—who, naturally, emphasised his achievements as a statesman and staunch anti-communist. At last he died on Sunday January 27th, aged 86.

His burial, in line with Muslim tradition, took place the next day. Tens of thousands lined the streets as his body was driven through the royal city of Solo in central Java, to the family mausoleum. Born in 1921 when Indonesia was still a Dutch colony, Mr Suharto was officially recorded as being the son of peasant farmers, although rumours suggested that he might have been the illegitimate son of a Javanese aristocrat or perhaps a wealthy businessman.

Mr Suharto joined the colonial Dutch army, then served under the occupying Japanese forces in the second world war, after which he fought for independence. In 1965 he shoved aside the then president, Sukarno, after the murders of six army generals in what was later officially claimed to have been a communist plot. Whatever the truth, Mr Suharto used it as an excuse to launch a bloody crackdown on communists, Sukarno supporters and anyone else in his way. Hundreds of thousands were slaughtered. more...


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