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Thursday, May 21, 1998 Published at 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK

'Total anarchy' in Jakarta

The trouble in Jakarta is aimed at a president who has ruled for over 30 years

BBC News' Matt Frei: 'Anarchy now runs supreme in the Indonesian capital'
Security forces in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, are deploying military vehicles after a day of violence throughout the city.

A column of troops in armoured vehicles has been patrolling areas worst hit by the continuing riots.

[ image: Riots and arson are spreading closer to the presidential palace]
Riots and arson are spreading closer to the presidential palace
But in general, the security forces have been unwilling or unable to contain the deteriorating situation, and are keeping a low profile.

Our correspondent described the situation earlier as "utter and total anarchy" with local people running riot and looters wandering freely around Jakarta, carrying goods from shops in a commercial district not far from the presidential palace.

RealVideo: the BBC's Jonathan Head : "an extraordinary demonstration of mass anger"
The armed forces chief, General Wiranto, who also serves as Defence Minister, said that 15,000 troops had been deployed in Jakarta.

General Wiranto has said he will do whatever is necessary to control the unrest, but has not yet decided to impose a curfew.

The BBC's Matt Frei in Jakarta: "complete and rampant anarchy" (1' 59")
President Suharto is expected to return early to Jakarta from an international conference in Egypt.

Early on Thursday, the beleaguered president seemed to suggest he could step aside if Indonesians no longer trust him to lead the country, plagued by economic and political turmoil for months.

Press reports premature

[ image: A student and a bullet he says was fired by police]
A student and a bullet he says was fired by police
A report in the Jakarta Post newspaper quoted President Suharto as saying he would become a sage and "endeavour to get closer to God," if it helped solve the crisis in the country.

The Jakarta Post is the larger of two English-language dailies in Indonesia and is widely respected.

Speaking in Cairo, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Ali Alatas, denied that the report means the President is prepared to step down.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas: Suharto 'could become wise man for his people' (1'15")
He said the President had always made it clear that he would resign if he was opposed constitutionally, but indicated that constitutional opposition means a decision of Indonesia's elected representatives.

Mr Alatas rejected the idea that 'extra-constitutional demands' would force the president to leave office.

Sounds familiar

The president initially appeared to have said he would not try to hang on to power if judged to have lost the trust of the people.

But similar statements have been made by President Suharto in the past without him giving up any of his power.

Suharto, who has ruled for 32 years, alluded last year to his wish to take on the role of an elderly sage, guiding from behind the scenes, when he finally steps down as head of the world's fourth largest nation.

He is now quoted as saying, "I will [spend] my time to guide my children so they become good people, [guide] the community, and give advice, I will do tut wuri handayani [guide from behind]."

There was no immediate reaction to Suharto's reported comments from cabinet ministers or the military.

However, one of his most vocal critics, Amien Rais, the head of the country's second largest Muslim organisation, was sceptical.

"I don't believe the statement. It is just political cosmetics," he said.

Kwik Kian Gie: A change 'by popular demand' is unlawful (0'34")
Kwik Kian Gie, a member of the opposition PDI party, led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, also expressed scepticism about the comments: "He [Suharto] said everything has to be done constitutionally."

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