Indonesia crisis: Dance for joy as dictator steps down

Students rejoiced but Jakarta was largely calm while millions of Indonesians stayed glued to their TVs awaiting news of the next development
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The Independent Online
IT TOOK less than 10 minutes to dispense with the formalities of ending more than three decades of authoritarian rule in Indonesia. At nine o'clock yesterday morning, millions of Indonesians were gathered around television sets waiting to see whether it was really true that President Suharto would step down.

Barely raising his head from his hand-held notes, the 76-year-old president finally said the words he once vowed he would not utter: "I will withdraw immediately".

"We all started dancing round the television", said Tarmagi, a man of about Suharto's age who was sitting quietly in the Al Huda mosque at Beucluugan Hilir, near the centre of Jakarta. "It is like having a bad tooth taken out", he said, "it's a relief".

Yet there was no dancing in the streets of the capital. Such exuberance was strictly confined to the parliament occupied by anti-Suharto students who were jubilant after drawing first blood.

The shallow pool which runs beside the long path to the central parliament building was filled with students dancing and chanting, "Hang Suharto from Monas Tower", a reference to the giant phallic monument to the independence struggle which stands close to the city centre.

"The people have become number one", said Yusuf, one of the students who has been taking part in the demonstrations which led to Suharto's downfall.

Yopie Rissa, a student from the Dirgantara Aviation College, had been sleeping in the building overnight on guard against thugs who were rumoured to be planning an attack.

Red-eyed and dishevelled he said: "Of course I was happy to hear that Suharto had stepped down, but personally, what I think is important, is that we get a clean government and that has not happened yet". Denny Salazie and his girl friend, Yuli Rosiana, students at Jakarta's Institute of Social and Political Science, were sitting quietly away from the intense noise and chants of the jubilant protesters. "He cried when he heard the news", said Yuli pointing to Denny, "You did too", he replied. "No, I did not, I don't have any tears left", she said. "We still have a long way to go". "I'm not fully happy," said Wencislaus de Rozari, whose family is from the island of Timor. "If [former vice- president] Habibie is the next president it means we have Suharto's man all over again".

Outside the heavily guarded parliamentary complex, Jakarta was unusually quiet. In part, this was because it was a public holiday and in part it was because many people were staying at home, glued to their television sets, trying to keep up with the latest news.

In a small alleyway in the Beucluggan Hilir district, two old ladies running a kiosk seemed to be among the only people in the capital who were unaware that the President had resigned.

Having been given the news by the Independent's representative, one of them, named Ehjah, asked in wonder: "Are you sure he's really gone?"

Asmawy, a tailor, was also not bothered about the departure of his President. His mind was firmly focused on the collapse of his business since the economic crisis took hold. "I hope the new government can help people like me," he said without conviction.

A group of minibus drivers were lounging in a street nearby. They had been talking all day about Suharto's departure. "We're wondering where all his money has gone," said Robert Sitorus. "Indonesia is a rich country but we can't get any money, it must have gone somewhere".

"Investigate his children", suggested one of the other drivers. "The Chinese have got the money", said another, "they were all protected by Suharto".

The soldiers, clutching automatic rifles, stationed around the capital looked relaxed. The tanks by their side had become so unthreatening that people used them as props for family photographs. "Uncle" Suharto seemed to have saved his nation from another round of blood letting. For the first time, he is the one paying the price.