14.1.08

Lee Kuan Yew among visitors to pay last respects as Soeharto near death

Correspondents in Jakarta and Tokyo

FOREIGN leaders, senior politicians and family members queued up to
pay their last respects to Suharto at the weekend as the former
Indonesian dictator, who for 32 years dominated the world's largest
Muslim nation, teetered on the verge of death.

Singapore's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, was among those to visit
the bedside of his friend and contemporary yesterday, two days after
Mr Suharto suffered multiple organ failure and was placed on a ventilator.

The 86-year-old former general was either sleeping or unconscious when
Mr Lee entered his room, according to former state secretary
Moerdiono, who was also at Mr Suharto's bedside.

Mr Lee, 84, flew in from Singapore especially to see Mr Suharto, but
left the hospital without talking to reporters. While relations
between neighbouring Singapore and Indonesia have often been difficult
over the years, Mr Lee and Mr Suharto maintained a friendship.

Also paying their last respects at the weekend were Indonesian
Vice-President Yusuf Kalla and Mr Suharto's half-brother,
Probosutedjo, who was allowed out of prison, where he is serving a
four-year sentence for corruption.

Mr Suharto was admitted to hospital on January 4 with heart, kidney
and lung problems and his health fluctuated daily before dramatically
worsening on Friday, when he was hooked to a ventilator to save his life.

The chief of the team of doctors treating Mr Suharto, Mardjo
Soebiandono, said yesterday there was only a 50-50 chance he would
survive.

``We have gathered the family twice today to tell them about the
possibility that the situation could get worse,'' Soebiandono said.
``The condition of Mr Suharto is very critical.''

Meanwhile, workers at the Suharto family mausoleum, outside the Java
city of Solo, scurried over the weekend to spruce up the surrounds in
preparation for a possibly imminent burial.

Mr Suharto's death will draw attention to the failure of the
Indonesian Government and of international organisations to bring to
justice a man believed to be one of the greatest kleptocrats and
butchers of the 20th century.

The Indonesian Government brought a civil case against Mr Suharto and
one of his foundations recently, accusing him of stealing $US441
million from state institutions between 1978 and 1998, when he was
driven from power by a popular uprising.

After he came to power in 1965, following a mysterious coup against
president Sukarno, an estimated 500,000 Indonesians were killed in
massacres by alleged communists, carried out with the tacit approval
of Mr Suharto.

Then there was the invasion and occupation of East Timor, where an
further 200,000 people were thought to have died from war and
deprivation, and the long-running independence war in Aceh.

The Government's estimate of the loot amassed by Mr Suharto and his
cronies is modest compared with that of the anti-corruption
organisation Transparency International, which in 2004 placed his
total takings at $US35 billion, more than that of the late Ferdinand
Marcos of The Philippines or Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic
Republic of Congo. Growing resentment at such corruption, combined
with the effects of the Asian financial crisis, precipitated his
sudden fall in May 1998 and the restoration of democracy.

Despite half-hearted efforts at prosecution by subsequent governments,
Mr Suharto was never brought to justice. A series of judges accepted
his lawyers' claims that he was too sick and mentally enfeebled to
stand trial.

However, Mr Suharto so dominated his people during three decades in power that even to those who fought against his oppression, the thought of sending him to jail would have been a kind of parricide.

Throughout his period in power, Mr Suharto was supported by Western governments that regarded him as a bulwark against communism in Southeast Asia. Among his own people, he encouraged the belief that he possessed supernatural powers.

KING OF CORRUPTION

* The Suharto family's estate includes homes in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Hawaii as well as a multi-million-dollar mansion outside Los Angeles

* In 2004, when Suharto was named the single most corrupt leader of all time, the GDP per head of Indonesia was just $US3500

* In 1998, the value of the Indonesian rupiah fell 80 per cent.

Suharto exhorted his population to make financial sacrifices while shifting his assets abroad

* Tommy, Suharto's favoured son, was granted a monopoly on cloves used in the manufacture of kretek cigarettes - made with a complex blend of tobacco, cloves and a flavouring sauce - in the 1990s. By 1993 this yielded $US40 million for a controlling stake in Lamborghini

Source: Transparency International; CIA World Factbook; Agencies; Times archives

The Australian - January 14, 2008 Monday

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