Suharto's visit puts pressure on Blair

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The Independent Online
AN OPPOSITION leader in Indonesia has called on Tony Blair to put pressure on President Suharto to step down when he visits London next month.

Amien Rais, leader of the Indonesian Muslim organisation, Muhammadiyah, or Followers of Islam, yesterday said that Europe is not doing enough to oppose Suharto, who was sworn in yesterday for his seventh consecutive five-year term.

"I want to see more pressure," he told The Independent. "There is no obstacle to the Western governments giving a strong signal to Suharto that enough is enough. I hope that Mr Blair will do so."

In three weeks' time, Mr Blair will host the Indonesian leader and heads of government of other European and Asian countries at the Asia-Europe meeting (Asem) in London. The discussions are certain to be dominated by Asia's economic crisis and by the plight of Indonesia.

Last week, the foreign office minister Derek Fatchett gave Suharto a letter from Mr Blair urging him to carry out economic reforms agreed between Indonesia and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in return for $43bn (pounds 27bn) of aid. Three days later, President Suharto suggested the programme was unconstitutional. The IMF then suspended the next installment of money until April. Yesterday, the IMF said it was willing to be flexible, but foreign analysts are increasingly convinced that real reforms will not take place under President Suharto. "Without political reform, the economic reforms will never take place," Mr Rais said. "It is high-time for the Western powers to pinpoint to Suharto what he has to do."

Throughout the Cold War, Western governments tolerated President Suharto's often brutal regime as a bulwark against the spread of Communism. Indonesia was also a valuable purchaser of arms, especially for Britain. The new "ethical foreign policy" promised by the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, was welcomed by dissidents and opposition figures in Indonesia, although enthusiasm was dampened by the Government's decision to go ahead with the sale of British Hawk fighter jets to the Indonesian armed forces, and to invite senior Indonesian generals to an arms exhibition.

Mr Rais was speaking at rally of students demonstrating against Suharto's unanimous re-election by the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR). Mr Rais, an ally of the opposition leader, Megawati Sukarnoputri, was barred from standing against the President, who has never been opposed during his 32 years in power, despite the worsening economic crisis.

In a speech to the MPR after his swearing-in, President Suharto made only an indirect reference to the crisis which has caused the Indonesian rupiah to lose 70 per cent of its value, adding: "As a nation we must tighten our belts."