Generals struggle to oust Suharto

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JAKARTA was on tenterhooks last night as the country's two most powerful generals struggled to wrest power from President Suharto, and a leading opposition leader promised to bring a million protesters out onto the streets.

Amien Rais, leader of Muhammadiyah, a 28-million strong Muslim organisation, predicted a day of "people power" on Wednesday when nationwide demonstrations are planned against the 76-year-old President's rule.

"Suharto will be held responsible if more killings take place in the future," he said yesterday. "[The people] have a single demand - that he has to step down.

"There is no party who can guarantee that the 20th May will be peaceful and non-violent, especially after we witnessed the looting and rioting and the flames all over Jakarta and other cities."

A senior member of the President's own ruling party told The Independent that - four days after devastating riots destroyed large areas of Jakarta - President Suharto will soon sign over much of his authority to an emergency committee with almost unlimited powers of detention and investigation.

The move looks like Indonesian history repeating itself, as President Suharto himself rose to power after pressuring his predecessor, President Sukarno, into making a similar concession in 1967.

"It will amount to built-in martial law," said Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, a member of the President's Golkar party, who served as environment minister until March. "From the President's point of view it's become a necessity. But it may even be welcome - it all depends on who is in charge of the committee."

Despite sustained protests which have occurred all year on campuses throughout Indonesia, the civilian democracy movement has failed to highlight any single leader with sufficient support to challenge President Suharto.

Since last week's riots, attention has been focused on the next generation of military leaders. Battling for the post of head of the emergency committee are the Indonesian armed forces' two most important officers: General Wiranto, the 51-year-old commander in chief, and Lieutenant-General Prabowo Subianto, commander of the elite Strategic Command and son-in-law of the President.

General Wiranto is the senior member of the "Red and White" faction, a group of nationalist officers who take their name from the colours of the Indonesian flag. In the past two weeks, in public at least, he has adopted a conciliatory line towards the protesters, urging dialogue and apologising for the shooting to death of six students at Trisakti university last Tuesday.

General Prabowo is linked with the "Green" or Islamic faction, some of whose members are said to favour turning Indonesia, which is 90 per cent Muslim, into an Islamic state.

"He's a very real and life-like, lethal toy soldier," said one observer with close links to the government.

According to diplomats, opposition activists and even members of the government, some of last week's riots, and the Trisakti killings which triggered them off, occurred at the instigation of the Green faction which wanted a pretext for claiming new and dictatorial powers for itself.

"If you want to be a fire-fighter," said an Indonesian political observer, "sometimes you have to start the fire yourself".

Sources close to General Wiranto say he presented a report alleging this last week, but the President forbade him to make it public. An intense struggle was said to be under way last night between supporters of General Wiranto, who include the commanders of the navy and air force, and those of General Prabowo, who include the President's daughter, Siti Hardijanti Rukmana, better known as Tutut.

Jakarta has been relatively calm since Friday when three days of devastating riots and looting petered out. According to the official figures, 3,000 buildings were destroyed, including more than 500 banks, along with at least 1,000 cars and 500 motorbikes, at a cost of some $230m (pounds 144m). At least 500 people died, many of them children and teenagers burned to death in shopping malls which were set alight while they were being looted.

A mass funeral for many of these victims, most of whom were burned beyond hope of identification is expected to be held today and is likely to be a focus of renewed anger and unrest.

Although President Suharto appears to be in control, and has promised to reshuffle his cabinet, every day a few more of his former allies desert his side.

Yesterday, a group of former ministers and retired military officers were quoted in the Jakarta Post as calling for his resignation. "People's sovereignty must be returned to the people whose freedom and rights have been torn apart," said Kemal Idris, the 75-year-old former head of the the armed forces Strategic Command.

The scale and bloodiness of last week's riots has chastened the student movement in Jakarta. Last night it was not clear whether a demonstration of students from 56 of the city's universities expected today would go ahead.