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Thursday, May 21, 1998 Published at 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK

Profile: President BJ Habibie

[ image:  ]
By Jakarta Correspondent Jonathan Head.

President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie owes his rise to power entirely to his close friendship with former President Suharto. Born on the island of Sulawesi in 1936, his family got to know Suharto, who was posted there as a military officer in the 1950s.

Mr Suharto took the young Habibie, an aspiring engineer, under his wing. Mr Habibie went to Germany for further training where he became a director of a large aerospace company. Mr Habibie came back to Indonesia in the 1970s convinced that he could help his country leap-frog from being a poor agricultural economy to one based on high technology:

Correspondent Jeremy Harris examines the prospects for the Habibie presidency
"The basis of any modern economy is in their capability of using their renewable human resources. The best renewable human resources are those human resources which are in a position to contribute to a product which uses a mixture of high-tech."

Planes and power

[ image: Habibie when vice president as seen by a political cartoonist]
Habibie when vice president as seen by a political cartoonist
The theory convinced President Suharto. In the mid-1970s he gave his protege his own government department and unlimited funds to build South East Asia's first aircraft industry.

Critics accused Mr Habibie of building aircraft no-one wanted, and of not understanding economics. The armed forces disliked having to buy his products. But with Mr Suharto's full backing, Mr Habibie could not be touched.

Professor Michael Hitchcock: Habibie is a "dangerous eccentric"
Three magazines that criticised him in 1994 were closed down. He went on to head an influential government-backed organisation of muslim intellectuals.

National achievements

But Mr Habibie does have his admirers inside Indonesia. His projects are always presented as national achievements to the Indonesian public, and he has courted senior Islamic figures.

[ image: Habibie now has his own  website]
Habibie now has his own website
Achmad Tirto Sudiro, leading member of the Habibie-sponsored Islamic Intellectuals Association: "He has now shown that he has the ability to achieve something. I am of the opinion that he has the vision of how to build this country in the future."

In the past Mr Habibie had always denied he had his eye on the top job:

"No, to be frank. I am only interested in the answer to where should I be to give the maximum contribution to my society and the human race. But I am sure that until my last minutes of being alive, I will always dedicate myself to my society."

Correspondent Jeremy Harris examines the prospects for the Habibie presidency
When President Suharto suggested Mr Habibie as his choice of vice president in February 1998, the value of the Indonesian currency fell to an all-time low because of fears over his eccentric economic theories.

His appointment as president caused some alarm in business circles and dismayed those who wanted an end to the corruption and cronyism which characterised Mr Suharto's rule.

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