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Wednesday, June 2, 1999 Published at 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK

Years of living dangerously

Early days of Independence

[ image: General Sukarno: Indonesia's founding father]
General Sukarno: Indonesia's founding father
Three days after Japan's defeat in World War II, Indonesia, a Dutch colony that had been occupied by Japan during the war, declared independence.

The Dutch resisted the nationalists, led by Sukarno, but after four years of intermittent conflict, an agreement was reached and Indonesia became an independent Republic on December 27, 1949 with Sukarno remaining President.

General Sukarno was a charismatic speaker as this extract from the BBC archives illustrates
Sukarno was a nationalist whose foreign policy was sympathetic to China and communist states, with Indonesia playing a key role in the non-aligned movement. The diversity and historical experience of the country made Indonesia's early days as a democracy a troubled time.

[ image: The army was a key player in holding the country together]
The army was a key player in holding the country together
Domestically, unsuccessful rebellions on some of Indonesia's island as well as political division and a succession of short-lived national governments weakened the parliamentary system. Inflation, food shortages and corruption also fuelled discontent, anti-Chinese feeling and the rise of the Communist Party, the PKI, which became the largest communist party in a non-communist country and fuelled fears of a take-over.

Attempted coup of 1965

BBC Radio Newsreel report on the attempted coup from Raymond Challis (1965)
In September-October 1965 a military coup was attempted in which the communists were implicated, although their role is unclear and debatable. The coup was resisted by other elements in the army and led to a violent backlash.

[ image: Tanks on the streets of Jakarta]
Tanks on the streets of Jakarta
Members and supporters of the Communist party were massacred by rightist gangs. Estimates of the number of deaths range between 160,000 and 500,000.

Memory of the violence and bloodshed persist in Indonesia's collective memory and continues to influence the country's direction.

Watch General Sukarno announcing the transfer of power in Real Video (1965)
On March 11, 1966, as violence spread and social order looked to be breaking down, Sukarno was forced to transfer emergency executive powers to military commanders led by 46 year-old General Suharto, Chief of Staff of the Army.

Listen to Sukarno's transfer of power in real audio
In February 1967, Sukarno transferred full power to Suharto and in March the People's Consultative Assembly removed Sukarno from office and named Suharto acting President. He proclaimed a "New Order" in Indonesian politics. He was formally inaugurated as President in March 1968.

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In this section

End of an epoch: The day in audio

Years of living dangerously

Sounds of anger

The mood in Suharto's home town