Suharto turns 77, prepares to meet press

FORMER president Suharto celebrated his 77th birthday yesterday with only a few people to greet him – a far cry from when he was leader.

But Mr Suharto intends to step into the limelight again today. He was said to be planning to hold a press conference to respond to accusations that he and his family milked the country of billions of dollars.

Sources said that his birthday yesterday was a quiet affair. He received bouquets of flowers from many people, including Cabinet ministers, but only a few well-wishers visited his home in Central Jakarta.

During his 32 years as president, his birthday celebrations were always attended by scores of close associates, business tycoons and ministers despite his protestations that he wanted only his family present.

An official who has worked with Mr Suharto since the 1970s said: “Since he quit as president, only a few people still want to meet him. It is because closeness to Pak Harto, which often meant rewarding careers or lucrative business deals in the past, has become a headache in this reform era.”

Since he stepped down on May 21, Mr Suharto, his family and friends have faced accusations that they accumulated billions of dollars illegally. The government of President B.J. Habibie has been cancelling contracts signed with companies associated with Mr Suharto.

The Jakarta Post said Mr Suharto planned to hold a press conference today to counter allegations that he had amassed wealth illegally. It said he was “disappointed” with such charges.

There was no immediate confirmation from the State Secretariat and palace sources whether such a news conference would be held.

The Jakarta Post reported that other than this, Mr Suharto was not an unhappy man. It said yesterday he spent most of his time at home, reading newspapers and watching television. Palace officials said he was relaxed and able to spend time with his 12 grandchildren.

The paper said that although Mr Suharto was no more president, he is greeted at home as one each morning. His parrot has been trained to screech: “Good Morning, Bapak president.”

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