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Saturday, January 10, 1998 Published at 15:36 GMT


Call for Suharto to go
image: [ Indonesians protest against the rule of President Suharto ]
Indonesians protest against the rule of President Suharto

The leading Indonesian opposition figure, Megawati Sukarnoputri, has called on President Suharto to step down from office in order to save the country from its present economic crisis.

In a speech to supporters outside her home in Jakarta, Megawati said it would be unwise and irresponsible if the President, who is 76 and in poor health, was renominated to his post in elections in March.

She said she was ready and determined to become the country's leader if the people demanded it.

[ image: Megawati Sukarnoputri says she is ready to lead Indonesia]
Megawati Sukarnoputri says she is ready to lead Indonesia
The daughter of Indonesia's late founding president, Sukarno, told a chanting crowd of 500 people in the garden of her residence on the outskirts of Jakarta: "Suharto's rule as president for 32 years is quite enough.

"Therefore I want to take this opportunity to call on the people of Indonesia to demand Suharto is not renominated for president for a seventh term of office.

"If the nation ends up having to bear this burden, then striped prison uniforms should be sown for the economic criminals who have destroyed our nation and our economic future," she said to loud applause.

[ image: President Suharto]
President Suharto
Indonesians should demand an explantion from the government for the economic crisis, which has shredded Jakarta's financial markets and threatened mass unemployment in the nation of 200 million people, she said.

Megawati was ousted from the leadership of the minority Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) by a government-backed faction in mid-1996 but retains a considerable following and is especially popular at the grass-roots level.

An attack on her supporters in 1996 after they refused to give up the PDI headquarters in central Jakarta sparked the worst riots in the capital for 20 years. At least five people died and dozens of buildings were destroyed or damaged.

Indonesia has been grappling with an economic crisis for several months and in October a $43bn aid package sponsored by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was accepted in return for a pledge to carry out economic reforms.

This has not prevented the currency, the rupiah, from plunging in recent weeks.

Indonesia has amassed $133bn in private and public debt and international investors fear that the government may declare a moratorium on repayments.

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