Thousands flee raging Indonesian violence

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PRESIDENT SUHARTO'S government appeared paralysed yesterday as thousands of people fled violence in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, which has left hundreds dead.

Police and soldiers patrolled in trucks and armour and most areas were tense but peaceful after riots on Thursday against the 32-year Suharto regime.

Dozens of shops and supermarkets in eastern Jakarta were looted. In a burnt-out shopping centre in the Klender district, medical orderlies moved more than 100 corpses of looters and shopkeepers who were trapped when the upper floors were set alight.

Despite the chaos there was no official curfew and bandits threatened and robbed motorists travelling at night on the city's elevated expressways.

There was almost no commercial activity for the second consecutive day. Thousands of expatriates and ethnic Chinese Indonesians fled to the airport to escape a country which remains close to political and economic collapse.

A few hours after his early return from a visit to Egypt, members of the President's party, Golkar, demanded that he eliminate "corruption, collusion and nepotism" and "return his mandate" as president. But senior generals expressed support for Mr Suharto and hinted at a crack-down. The opposition leaders Megawati Sukarnoputri and Amien Rais failed to turn up for an appearance with activists demanding reform and an end to Mr Suharto's rule.

The Information Minister, Alwi Dahlan, repeated a statement by Mr Suharto that he would step down "if the people have no confidence in me". But his son-in-law, Lieutenant-General Prabowo Subianto, denied speculation that the armed forces were divided in their support for the President and promised on national television to act forcefully against rioters.

The government said it was reversing a rise in the cost of fuel oil, which provoked riots last week. Trading in the financial markets ceased and many foreign companies closed their offices and flew out employees and their families.

Staff of the International Monetary Fund, whose austerity programme contributed to the unrest, left in a chartered plane. The British embassy advised citizens "to consider leaving", and British Airways laid on an extra flight to Malaysia after scheduled services were completely booked out. Other countries, including the United States, began evacuating citizens on chartered flights.