Indonesia prepares for Suharto funeral, declares week-long mourning

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Singapore, Jan 28: Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will lead the state funeral of former President Haji Mohammed Suharto today.

Suharto died yesterday in Jakarta at the age of 86 afer suffering multiple organ failure. The Indonesian government has also declared seven days of mourning in respect of the general who ruled Indonesia for 32 years with iron fist. Dignitaries and regional government representatives are scheduled to attend Suharto's funeral at the family mausoleum, the Astana Giri Bangun, at Karangamnyar near Solo in Central Java.

Though he left a mixed legacy, especially the ''less than desirable'' human rights record for allegedly having killed more than 500,000 people after he siezed power in 1960s in an anti-communist campaign, Asian leaders praised Suharto for having built the Indonesian economy.

President Yudhoyono called on the Indonesians to show the highest respect to one of the best sons of the nation, acknowleding his contribution, service and dedication to the country of 200 million people and 17,000 islands and state.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has extended his heartfelt condolences to the Suharto family and the Indonesian people.

Paying tribute to Suharto for helping to strengthen ties between Indonesia and Malaysia, Abdullah said his passing away was a great loss to both countries.

He also announced that Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and former deputy prime minister Musa Hitam would represent Malaysia at the funeral today.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo noted Suharto's critical role in building the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which today has grown into a 10-country bloc and increased the region's influence in global politics.

''As one of the founding fathers of ASEAN, President Suharto was among those who had the pioneering vision of establishing a more peaceful, progressive and prosperous Southeast Asian region founded on respect and understanding,'' Ms Arroyo said in a statement.

Arroyo recalls Suharto's help in negotiating a peace pact between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front, a Muslim rebel group in the Philippines' volatile southern area of Mindanao.

''The Filipino people join me in offering deepest sympathies and condolences on the demise of former President Suharto,'' Arroyo said.

In his message of condolence to President Yodhoyono, Singapore President S R Nathan recalled that Suharto had inherited a broken-black economy when he took over Indonesia in 1960s, ''He brought Indonesia to a healthy and strong position and gave her and her people many years of prosperity and stability,'' said Nathan.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong flew to Jakarta last night and paid respect to the late Indonesian leader, saying ''Suharto's leadership, vision, and statemanship enabled all ASEAN countries to grow and prosper in peace, and made ASEAN a respected player in the Asia Pacific.'' Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Suharto was influential in ASEAN's successful development, as well as that of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, a major international body that promotes world trade.

Suharto ''presided over the government of what is the world's fourth most populous country and its largest Islamic nation,'' Rudd said in a statement.

In his tribute to the former Indonesian strongman, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda noted Suharto's efforts to maintain friendly relations between Japan and Indonesia. ''I sincerely pray that former president Suharto would rest in peace, he said. ''President Suharto led Indonesia for over 30 years, a period during which Indonesia achieved remarkable economic and social development,'' said Mr Cameron Hume, the United States ambassador to Jakarta.

''Though there may be some controversy over his legacy, President Suharto was a historic figure who left a lasting imprint on Indonesia and the region of Southeast Asia,''Mr Hume said in a statement.

Two of Suharto's closest Southeast Asian leaders, former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew have been supporting the ailing leader, having recently visited him in hospital and calling on the 200 million Indonesians to give due respect to the leader.

He has been undergoing treatment in Pertamina hospital since January 4 , 2008 and had been visited by Asian leaders. Among other Asian leaders who visited Suharto in hospital was Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

Suharto resigned on May 21, 1998 following riots and protests as the Indonesian economy crumbled from the impact of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. He was blamed for widespread corruption in the country and was alleged to have helped his family members build up multi-billion dollars of businesses through awards of favourable state projects.

Indonesia' first President Sokarno named Suharto's government in July 1966 after an army coup to crush a communist uprising in the country.


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