Media waiting for news of Soeharto battle boredom

Slamet Susanto and Blontank Poer, The Jakarta Post, Karanganyar, Central Java

The hundreds of journalists who have been waiting in Surakarta for news of former president Soeharto's health have taken to playing cards, buying cheap durian and watching televised soccer games to pass the time -- others have just gone home.

The media has waited patiently in Surakarta for more than a week, when it was first announced Soeharto's condition had become critical.

Since last Friday, local journalists have been assigned to assist news crews arriving from Jakarta and hundreds of reporters were put on 24-hour stand-by to cover news of the former leader. Surakarta is where Soeharto would be buried.

Some media representatives remain outside the Astana Giribangun burial site, Soeharto's family residence Dalem Kalitan and the Adi Sumarmo Airport.

"I'm tired of waiting ... bored because there's nothing to do," said Michael Aryawan, a cameraman from the Yogyakarta branch ANTV.

Michael has been assigned to cover news in the event Soeharto dies.

Due to the uncertain situation, he said two-thirds of news crews had returned to Jakarta.

"Yesterday, there were three teams assigned to cover news on Soeharto, but two of them have returned home, except me and a reporter who are on stand-by here," he said.

Wahyu is in charge of the satellite news gathering for TransTV and said, "It would be fine if there's work to be done, but there's no work, just waiting and waiting".

"It's very boring and tiresome."

To pass the time, Wahyu and his colleagues said they have been playing cards at the village patrol post, which they rented for Rp 40,000 (approximately US$39) per day as their command post.

Others said they have visited the Tawangmangu tourist site, a 30-minute journey from the post.

Another pastime, said Wahyu, was buying durian at the nearby Jumapolo village, Matesih, Karanganyar, well known for its selection of the infamous fruit.

"We bought five durian at Rp 40,000," Wahyu said.

"They tasted delicious. They say it's still expensive now, and will be cheaper during the peak season."

Scores of other journalists assigned to the city area, such as Dalem Kalitan, took advantage of the lull to watch matches played in the quarter-final leg of the Indonesian soccer league.

"Fortunately, there's a soccer competition," Tempo reporter Imron said.

"We have to watch it to freshen ourselves rather than waiting for something that is uncertain.

"Everyone seems to precede God's will.

"Life or death is in the hands of God, but it seems that Pak Harto is sure to die.

"Well, eventually it turns out to be like this, we keep waiting and waiting," he said.

On Thursday the Karanganyar regency administration was still repairing the road leading to Astana Giribangun which was damaged by the recent landslide.

Security personnel were still guarding the burial ground and local military officers inspected the site for more than an hour on Thursday.

The military said the inspection was routine and not related to preparations for Soeharto's planned-for funeral.


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