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Hundreds Perish In Jakarta

The streets of Jakarta belonged to the military late Friday after hundreds of Indonesians perished when fires broke out in the department stores they were looting.

CBS News correspondent Barry Petersen reports that the death toll won't be known until the fires, still burning, are out and authorities can get inside.

The targets of the looters, and the sites of the fires, were two six-story department stores owned and operated by the country's ethnic Chinese minority. Other Muslim-owned stores across the street, with prayer rugs displayed, were untouched by looters or fires.

The ethnic Chinese, who make up less than five percent of Muslim-majority Indonesia's 200 million people but control most of its wealth, are perennial targets during mob violence. Most of the shops plundered belong to Chinese.

An eerie calm fell on the city Friday night after a four-day wave of arson and plunder, but panicked residents choked the airport to flee Indonesia's worst riots in 32 years.

There were sporadic reports of mobs burning and looting shops in several cities across the sprawling country of 200 million people but the capital was quiet, with tanks, armored troop carriers, and soldiers with automatic rifles on patrol.

President Suharto, whose autocratic and sometimes ruthless three-decade rule now hangs in the balance, returned home in the predawn hours from a shortened state visit to Egypt, and ordered top officials to get tough with rioters.

President Clinton, commenting on the violence which has gripped the nation following massive discontent against Suharto's rule, said replacing him was a matter for the people to decide.

"What we do believe is important is that the present government open a dialogue with all the elements of society and that it lead to genuine political reform," he told a news conference during the Group of Eight summit in England.

Suharto, who was whisked home from the airport through deserted streets guarded by armored personnel carriers and troops, said he would not use armed force to stay in office if he lost the trust of the people.

It was a repetition of comments he made in Cairo on Wednesday. Political analysts took them with a large dose of salt, but they said popular anger against the former army general's rule was at such levels it was unlikely he would survive in office for any length of time.

Suharto, 76, took power in the mid-1960s from late founding president Sukarno. This week's violence is the worst in the country since anti-Communist pogroms at that time, in which at least half a million people were killed in a backlash to what the government says was a failed Communist coup.