Suharto puts faith in force as riots spread

AFTER a remarkable week in which his senior supporters have spoken openly of Indonesia's imminent collapse, President Suharto warned yesterday that force would be used against any threat to "national stability".

He was speaking before leaving on a week-long trip to Cairo, hours after violent student demonstrations claimed their first confirmed victim, a 41-year-old bystander apparently beaten to death by police. Moses Gatutkaca, a businessman in the city of Yogyakarta in Java, died on his way to hospital late on Thursday night after getting caught up in a battle between police and students. Ordinary passers-by, as well as doctors, nurses, bus and taxi-drivers joined demonstrations in five cities in Java and Sulawesi.

Further demonstrations took place yesterday in the Javan cities of Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Bandung, although there were no more disturbances in Medan in Sumatra, where mobs of looters ran out of control and terrorised ethnic Chinese families last week.

President Suharto's visit to Egypt, where he will attend a conference of developing countries, was being presented by the government as a sign of his confidence after a week in which his future has begun to look more doubtful than ever. "I am fully aware of the situation of the country," he said. "I hope the people of Indonesia will not sacrifice the national stability that we have achieved. The security forces will take action against whoever disturbs and ruins national stability."

"It shows that, far from the picture sometimes depicted of Indonesia being on the point of total breakdown, he feels things are ... still within the bounds of stability and can be dealt with," said Suharto's foreign minister, Ali Alatas, in Cairo.

In London, however, ministers of the leading industrial nations warned Mr Suharto that political reforms were needed to stave off social unrest. "The world is now watching Indonesia," said the Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

Unease about the demonstrations - and above all about the mob violence in Medan, where at least six people are reported to have been shot dead by police - is clearly being felt among some of those closest to Mr Suharto.

Lieutenant General Syarwan Hamid, a senior officer and former military spokesman, was quoted in yesterday's Indonesian papers as saying that Indonesia was facing collapse unless reforms were carried out and the plunging economy was rescued. "If it continues going down, it will lead to our destruction," he told a meeting of senior journalists. "This is a fiery ball indeed."

Even Indonesia's House of Representatives, a normally docile assembly of government- approved candidates chosen through rigged elections, has made a show of disapproval at the fuel price rises which provoked the Medan riots last week. "Power is now very much concentrated in the hands of the president," said Hamzah Haz, of the Muslim United Development Party which is approved and controlled by the government. "We're reforming this."

Last week's disturbances have depressed the stock exchange and driven down the value of the Indonesian rupiah. In Tokyo, unease about the disturbances was prolonging negotiations over the rescheduling of $80bn owed to Japanese banks by Indonesian companies.