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The BBC's Simon Ingram in Jakarta
"A protracted row over Mr Suharto's true state of health lies ahead"
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Human rights campaigner, Carmel Budiardjo
"He is actually a perpetrator of crimes against humanity"
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Thursday, 31 August, 2000, 06:33 GMT 07:33 UK
Trial postponed for 'sick' Suharto
Mr Suharto's lawyers behind the defendant's empty chair
Mr Suharto's lawyers behind the defendant's empty chair
The trial of former Indonesian president Suharto has been postponed for two weeks after lawyers claimed he was too ill to defend himself.

He was due to appear at the Jakarta courtroom at 1000 local time (0300GMT), but his defence lawyers said Mr Suharto's deteriorating mental and physical condition had deprived him of the ability to defend himself in court.

Anti-Suharto protests
There was no trouble as 200 protesters called for the trial to continue
The five judges have now given the defendant's doctors two weeks to prepare submissions on his health.

"This team of doctors should give a detailed explanation in a language that can be understood by the panel of judges as well as the people in general," said presiding Judge Lalu Mariyun.

Mr Suharto, 79, is charged with embezzling up to $550m from seven charities he set up for social purposes.

The prosecution of Mr Suharto is being seen as a key test of promises by the current Indonesian government to crack down hard on corruption.

Bus explosion

Mr Suharto faces life imprisonment if convicted, although the current president, Abdurrahman Wahid, has said he will pardon him if he hands back most of the $45bn fortune he is alleged to have amassed during his 32 years in power.

The former president, who has suffered at least two strokes in recent months, denies the charges against him and has offered to return any funds which prosecutors can prove were obtained illegally.

jakarta bus
A bus lies wrecked near the Jakarta courtoom
More than 1,200 police were put on guard at the ministry of agriculture complex where the trial is being held, because of the possibility of clashes involving student protesters who have long demanded Mr Suharto's prosecution.

A number of anti-Suharto protesters were among the onlookers at the venue, but there was no trouble.

On Wednesday evening, an empty bus exploded near the trial venue, hurling debris at the building. No-one was hurt in the blast, which destroyed the 40-seat vehicle.

"It is an act of terror to intimidate people before the trial starts," said Jakarta's chief detective, Colonel Hari Montolalu.

No surprise

BBC south-east Asia correspondent Simon Ingram says Mr Suharto's failure to appear has surprised few people, but will anger those who believe he has much more to answer than the corruption charges he currently faces.

The former president may be too ill to attend court
Senior defence lawyer Juan Felix Tampubolon listed a variety of ailments that the former president allegedly suffers from to the court.

"At the moment Suharto is sick and he has a history of strokes and there is a possibility of him having a stroke again," Mr Tampubolon said.

It is claimed that Mr Suharto suffers from brain damage and is unable to understand simple questions.

However, the prosecution has argued that recent medical tests, including brain scans, have shown that he is fit for trial.

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See also:

25 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Suharto summons served
24 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Protesters stage pro-Suharto rally
23 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Date set for Suharto trial
21 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Suharto 'has $45bn' hidden away
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