Rest in peace, my president

28 01 2008

Rest in peace, Pak Suharto…

Rest in peace Pak Harto

Former Indonesian president Suharto laid to rest

Former Indonesian president Suharto was laid to rest with full military honours Monday, ending a controversial chapter in the history of the nation he ruled with an iron fist for 32 years.

The ex-dictator, whose rule became a byword for rampant corruption and rights abuses despite huge economic progress, was buried in his family mausoleum in the town of Matesih in a state funeral.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono gave a short speech as close relatives covered his coffin with rose and jasmin petals during the ceremony.

He was buried next to his wife, Siti Suhartinah, who died in 1996.

Hundreds of mourners gathered along the flag-lined road leading to the mausoleum on the main island of Java to pay their respects as his funeral processsion passed.

Mariani, a 53-year-old woman, said she had walked two hours to be there.

“I think Pak Harto thought of the people,” she told AFP, using the respectful appellation by which Suharto was known.

“Everything was cheap, now things are expensive.”

“No matter how bad Pak Harto may have been, his contribution to the nation was huge,” said a 52-year-old man who only gave his name as Heri.

Suharto’s body was earlier flown from the capital Jakarta to the city of Solo before being driven the short distance to the mausoleum.

Tens of thousands of people had jammed the streets of Jakarta as the coffin was taken from his residence where it had lain overnight since Suharto died Sunday at the age of 86.

Helicopters buzzed overhead as the convoy, its blue lights flashing, drove slowly to the military airport where a guard of honour from the army, navy, air force and police saluted as the coffin was loaded onto a waiting plane.

His death marks the passing of yet another of the authoritarian and mostly pro-Western strongmen who dominated this region of Asia for much of the late 20th century.

Suharto’s regime was scarred by repression, from the killings of at least half a million communists and sympathisers after an abortive coup that allowed him to seize power in 1966, to invading East Timor and repressing separatist movements in Aceh and Papua provinces.

His rule also left a legacy of widespread corruption that put billions of dollars into the hands of friends and relatives.

At the same time, by putting stability and economic growth above all else, he steered this sprawling archipelago nation through a boom that has led many here to hail him as the father of development.

He was forced to quit in 1998 amid political paralysis and economic crisis, retiring to isolation in an upmarket Jakarta neighbourhood and fending off all attempts to bring him to trial.

Increasingly frail, he was hospitalised on January 4 with heart, lung and kidney complaints, eventually succumbing to multiple organ failure.

In an early morning ceremony, Suharto’s body was formally transferred into the care of the state for the funeral.

House Speaker Agung Laksono urged Indonesians “to pray so that the soul of the late (Suharto) be accepted by God Almighty, that his sins be pardoned and his good deeds be received.”

In a traditional Javanese rite, close relatives filed several times under the flag-draped casket, held aloft by a military guard, while earthenware pots were smashed noisily on the ground to ward off evil spirits.

Hundreds of people, many clad in black, jostled at both ends of the street to view the hearse as it passed. Wreaths covered the pavement several hundred metres in both directions.

International reaction to his death acknowledged his mixed legacy.

Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, a close ally whose own long rule coincided with much of Suharto’s presidency, said history would accord him “a place of honour” for steering Indonesia out of economic disaster.

Another Suharto contemporary, Malaysia’s former premier Mahathir Mohamad, hailed him as a “great leader and an international statesman,” saying reports he had orchestrated the bloodletting of 1965 were “absolute nonsense.”

Former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer said that Suharto was “greedy” but still cut an impressive figure.

“He was certainly greedy, he was certainly a dictator, he certainly had a poor human rights record,” he said.

But on the other hand, Downer added, “he certainly had a very clear vision of Indonesia’s role in Southeast Asia and in East Asia generally.”





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