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Jakarta Riots

Stunned by days of rioting, Indonesians emerged from their homes Saturday and surveyed the debris-filled streets of their shattered, blackened capital. Thousands of soldiers in tanks and armored personnel carriers patrolled the city amid an uneasy calm.

Hundreds of stores were stripped bare, and many had been set on fire. Thousands of windows were smashed by rocks and automatic teller machines had been ripped from walls and emptied. The streets were strewn with shattered glass and littered with burned-out cars.

Awed by the immensity of the damage and a death toll from arson fires at malls that threatened to top 400, some feared violence will explode again if the authoritarian President Suharto fails to ease his 32-year grip on power soon.

No demonstrations had been planned for Saturday and the presence of the 10,000 troops Suharto ordered to the streets a day earlier seems to have had a calming effect on the capital city of 11 million.

Still, droves of foreigners, including about 1,600 Americans, continued to flee Jakarta on evacuation flights organized by their worried governments.

Multinational companies were chartering their own flights, one of which swerved off the runway in neighboring Singapore and broke its wing. Three people were hospitalized.

The exodus followed some of the worst rioting to wrack the city in decades, led by mobs fed up with economic hardship and students wanting political change.

The government Saturday night banned private television broadcasters from airing their own reports about the demonstrations, ordering them to use footage from the government-run station.

There was no fresh rioting to broadcast. The government station showed footage of the destroyed capital, but no scenes from the previous unrest.

As the crisis wears on, the 76-year-old Suharto has repeatedly said he's willing to step aside if Indonesians want him to go, but only according to a convoluted constitutional process that could take months to complete.

Critics think little of his offer.

"He's said the same thing for more than 30 years," said Arbi Sanit, a political scientist at the University of Indonesia. "In many ways Suharto acts like a king who wants to die holding onto power."

Suharto made some initial concessions to critics, including the students whose peaceful protests preceded the days of violence.

On Saturday, Suharto promised to reshuffle his Cabinet, now dominated by his daughter and close friends.

The day before, he announced a rollback of a big price hike on gasoline and other fuels, that helped trigger the riots.

Students, outraged by the shooting deaths of six students by police at a demonstration last Tuesday, plan more big demonstrations in Jakarta and other major cities this week.

The likelihood of more violence hangs on the response of the military to more student unrest.

"There is a danger that th army and students will clash," Sanit said. "I fear there will be more violence."

So far the military has remained behind Suharto, a former army general who came to power after putting down what the government said was an abortive communist coup in 1965.

Analysts, though, are closely watching the top generals, who could be the key to the country's political future.

The violence has been concentrated in the largest urban areas of Indonesia. The world's fourth most populous nation, with 200 million people, is spread out over 17,000 islands that stretch farther than the distance between New York and Los Angeles.

Trying to keep the peace in Jakarta, armored personnel carriers crisscrossed the city with loudspeakers blaring: "The armed forces are friends of the people."

Other soldiers went about more grisly tasks. Troops helped search for bodies of looters who burned to death in shopping malls set afire at the height of the riots.

Morgue officials said they had taken in 275 bodies many of them charred beyond recognition. More bodies were taken out by relatives who failed to notify authorities. Many more still lie in the ashes.

In front of the charred facade of Ciledug shopping plaza, worried relatives waited for word about the fate of 145 looters believed killed after someone started a fire during a snatch-and-grab spree Thursday.

Twenty-six unrecognizable bodies were dragged out. Dozens more were still inside the still-smoldering building, too hot for rescuers to search three days after the fire began.

Jakarta Gov. Sutiyono said more than 3,000 buildings had been attacked and nearly 1,500 automobiles and motorcycles wrecked.

Many of the damaged stores were owned by members of Indonesia's Chinese minority, who dominate industry and commerce here and are often targeted as scapegoats in tough economic times.