Suharto still popular : Abri

Armed forces spokesman says the country needs the President to tackle the crisis and student demonstrations for his removal are groundless.

The Indonesian armed forces (Abri) has brushed aside suggestions that President Suharto has lost the people’s confidenceas a result of the country’s economic crisis.

Abri spokesman Wahab Mokodongan disclosed that the military had carried out a nation-wide census before the People’s Consultative Assembly last month.

It found that most Indonesians still supported the 76-year-old leader who was elected for a record seventh term in office.

“The census by our officials concluded that most Indonesians wanted Pak Harto to be renominated in the recent presidential election,” news reports yesterday quoted him as saying.

He dismissed suggestions that the results of the census by Abri officials were inaccurate.

He said: “We ordered our soldiers stationed in villages and sub-districts to determine the people’s aspirations regarding the country’s leadership. If any of them ignored this instruction, they were disciplined.”

He pointed out that Indonesians were aware that the President was old, “yet the country still needs Pak Harto to lead it through the monetary crisis”.

His comments take place against a background of protracted student demonstrations across the country over the last month.

Analysts said that the student protest movement displayed a new mood of populist radicalism and that activism was now more widely and evenly spread compared to demonstrations in the 1960s and 1970s.

Several thousand university students have been staging demonstrations in Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Solo, Semarang and Surabaya, Medan and Ujung Pandang, calling for political and economic reform and the President’s resignation.

Brig-General Mokodongan said that demands from the students for Mr Suharto to step down were groundless.

“They should never presume that President Suharto will quit,” he said. “A nation in crisis needs a capable and experienced leader.”

Student leaders, meanwhile, turned down an offer by the military for a dialogue with Defence Minister and armed forces chief, General Wiranto, and several other Cabinet ministers.

More than 30 student representatives from 17 universities were scheduled to meet them this Saturday.

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