After a failed coup by leftist army officers in 1965, Suharto (L) led bloody anti-communist purges in which hundreds of thousands of suspected leftists were killed.
Having worked his way up the ranks to become a senior general Suharto was handed emergency powers by President Sukarno in 1966.
Suharto had trained in Japanese-controlled militias during World War II, before playing a crucial role in Indonesia's independence fight against the Dutch.
Soon after his accession to power in 1967, Suharto began visiting other leaders in the region - including Japan - to thrash out economic agreements.
Suharto courted the West, and Indonesia did well economically. But this new-found prosperity came at a price: any form of dissent was harshly suppressed.
In the wake of the Asian financial crisis, the economy slumped. Public protests forced Suharto to resign in 1998, after more than three decades in power.
His departure shook Indonesians, and gave hope to secessionists in parts of the archipelago. East Timor became a separate nation, after 25 years of control from Jakarta.
Since his downfall, Suharto has been criticised for amassing a huge fortune while in power. His son Tommy has also been under fire, and served four years in jail for murder.
Suharto's opponents tried to get the ex-president to court as well, on corruption charges. But judges agreed to drop charges in view of his health.