This sad pile of corpses may spell the end for Suharto

Richard Lloyd Parry witnesses a brutal confrontation between police and students in which six people died
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The Independent Online
IT IS only hours since they died, but already the six young men in the mortuary of the Sumber Waras Hospital have shed the look of the living. Hendriawan, the economics student, has a necklace of dried blood around his neck.

Heri Heryanto, of the engineering faculty, has half-open eyes and pallid, glassy skin. A weeping young woman touches his cheek and springs back with a cry at how cold he is. They lie side by side in a strip-lit room where the mosquitoes buzz, four more reasons - if more were needed - for believing this is the beginning of the end of President Suharto.

A year ago the Indonesian leader was one of the most respected leaders in Asia, a man who unified the world's fourth-largest nation and oversaw three decades of steady growth. Since last summer the Asian economic crisis has destroyed President Suharto's economic achievements and this year's student protests, culminating in last night's bloodshed, have completely undermined his claims to legitimacy.

Yesterday afternoon, 5,000 students from Trisakti University, Jakarta, were demonstrating - noisily but peacefully - for his overthrow. Such protests have become commonplace in Indonesia this year, and this one began as they all do - with speeches and slogans and songs. It ended with a charge by police who beat up those they could catch, and chased others inside their campus where they were picked off with rubber and live bullets. Apart from the six confirmed dead, more than 60 people were injured in an incident which will escalate drastically the nationwide campaign of protest against President Suharto.

The violence of the police response was especially incomprehensible given the good-naturedness of the demonstration. It began in the morning in the campus of the private university, base for 29,000 of Jakarta's wealthiest and most fashionable students. It was one of the biggest demonstrations in the capital in two years and around noon it moved out of the campus and into the street.

The aim was to march to the office of the mayor of Jakarta and present a petition. But a line of police blocked the path. Reinforcements soon arrived, including British-made Tactica armoured cars, and the traffic was blocked along a six-lane road. But the atmosphere was calm and light- hearted - students passed roses to the troops and pushed them into their gun barrels. At 1.30pm there was an intense shower of tropical rain, and the crowd thinned out. "The chief of police praised them for conducting such a peaceful demonstration," said Professor Adi Andjoyo, dean of the university law faculty, after visiting the mortuary last night. "They didn't throw stones. There was no provocation. It is very cruel and it makes me so angry."

By the late afternoon, the police and remaining students were backing away from one another. Then, just as everyone appeared about to pack up and go home, a plain clothes policeman got into a scuffle with a group of students. The police ran forward, shouldering their rifles and brandishing their clubs. They charged the crowd, kicking and beating those they could catch, firing first blanks, then small-calibre rubber-coated rounds.

The students fled back on to their campus and it is here that the worst atrocities appear to have taken place, as students were hunted down by pursuing police and snipers on a nearby overpass. "Some were shot in the head, some in the back, some in the chest," said Professor Andjoyo. "I saw blood in the grounds of the campus. This proves that they were shooting inside." Many students were unaccounted for last night.

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