Watch CBSN Live

Chaos Awaits Suharto's Return

Indonesian President Suharto has cut short a state visit to Egypt and is expected home early Friday - and he'll be greeted by chaos.

CBS News Correspondent Barry Peterson calls it "a country where there is riot almost everywhere, crowds completely out of control."

In Indonesia's capital of Jakarta, mobs are rampaging as police try to keep them at bay, sometimes firing into the crowds with blanks or rubber bullets - although some suspect they occasionally use live ammunition.

"Clearly, there are a number of police and soldiers," reports Peterson, "but there are tens of thousands of people. In some cases, the soldiers seem to be with the people and, for Suharto, that perhaps is the most dangerous sign of all."

The newsman also says, "The mob took its rage out wherever it could - at one point, turning over a police command center and setting it on fire."

Rage was also aimed at the Suharto family, which owns an auto company. "The mob found one of the dealerships and went inside, bent on complete destruction," says Peterson. Angry Indonesians smashed car windows and tore the building apart, shouting slogans and demanding government reform.

"They are yelling something else: 'We're hungry'," reports Peterson. "As someone said to us before, people with an empty stomach feel they have nothing to lose. To them, revolution is the last option."

Mobs burned buildings in central Jakarta Thursday in a third day of anti-government violence, and President Suharto said he would step down rather than use force to cling to power against the peoples' wishes.

The northern quarter of the 10 million-population city was peppered with burning buildings and vehicles. Reporters counted at least six columns of smoke rising amid glass-fronted offices and shops. The Red Cross reported five people taken to the hospital.

A dozen armored personnel carriers slowly drove in formation through a district of the capital lined with major government and commercial offices - not far from the Presidential Palace and the country's national monument.

The house of Indonesia's richest man, Liem Soei Liong, an ethnic Chinese billionaire with close links to Suharto, was trashed and burned.

The Chinese, who compose less than five per cent of the world's fourth most populous country, have taken the brunt of much of the rioting because of their perceived wealth and domination of commerce. They account for 80 percent of Indonesia's wealth.

On Wednesday, at least 12 people were killed as protests against Suharto's rule exploded into an orgy of looting, arson and gunfire lasting well beyond midnight. Six students had been killed the previous day when security forces opened fire on an anti-Suharto demonstration at the city's Trisakti University.

The Indonesian rupiah, reeling from months of devastating economic crisis, perked up briefly in the morning in the hope that Suharto was willing to step down with little fuss.

It rose to 10,300 against the U.S. dollar from about 11,700 overnight but slumped back later to 11,500 as news of the fresh rioting spread, dealers said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue