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Report: Suharto Offers To Quit

President Suharto said he is willing to step down if Indonesians no longer trust him, a newspaper reported Thursday, hours after students calling for his ouster battled security forces.

"If I am no longer trusted ...I will become a sage and endeavor to get closer to God," The Jakarta Post quoted the 76-year-old leader as saying Wednesday in Egypt, where he was attending a summit of developing nations.

The widely-respected English-language daily quoted Suharto as saying that instead of leading the country, he would give advice and "guide from behind."

There was no immediate comment from government officials in the capital, Jakarta.

Suharto's longtime image of invulnerability has eroded in recent months as Indonesia endures its worst economic crisis in decades and growing discontent among its 200 million people.

The capital was hit by riots Wednesday after security forces shot and killed six student demonstrators during an anti-government protest a day earlier. Students have vowed to step up their efforts to oust Suharto and scheduled more protests Thursday.

Police fired rubber bullets and live ammunition into crowds, badly wounding at least 10 people, student activists said. On Tuesday, security forces shot dead six student demonstrators.

They were the first student deaths in three months of campus-based protests against Suharto, who is weathering the worst economic crisis of his three-decade rule and increasing demands for democratic reform.

Wednesday's violence broke out after students clashed with police following a massive memorial service for the dead protesters at Jakarta's Trisakti University, the site of Tuesday's shootings.

The concentration of police at the university created a security vaccuum in other parts of the capital, apparently encouraging poor workers and unemployed young people to start rioting and looting. Those involved have suffered the most under Indonesian's current harsh economic conditions.

There were more than a half-dozen flashpoints in the city, including a predominately ethnic Chinese quarter in west Jakarta. After dusk, mobs looted and attacked shops and houses, witnesses said.

Chinese people make up a tiny fraction of Indonesia's population but dominate commerce and industry. Many Indonesians resent their wealth and frequently make them scapegoats in tough times.

Major roads were blocked as hundreds of rioters threw rocks and bottles at police. They set up makeshift roadblocks and lit bonfires as night fell. Water cannons dispersed unruly crowds as armed troops climbed down ropes from helicopters.

Student leaders told reporters that people rioting outside the campuses were not students, and they urged their classmates not to join the rioters.

Unconfirmed reports said foreign companies were planning to evacuate employees and dependents, while the embattled Indonesian currency, the rupiah, dropped aout 15 percent in value. The once-thriving stock market plunged 8 percent.

Violence also broke out last week after Suharto imposed tough new austerity measures under a $43 billion rescue plan imposed by the International Monetary Fund.

The result was riots and looting in the nation's third-largest city, Medan. Afterward, Suharto had appealed for calm and threatened to use force to crush protests.

"The clashes are getting out of hand," his military commander and defense minister, Gen. Wiranto, told reporters Wednesday.

Suharto cut short his trip to Egypt for an international conference and was returning home when the fighting escalated.

The latest outbreak of violence spooked financial markets across Southeast Asia. Indonesia's rupiah dropped sharply from its Tuesday close against the U.S. dollar and big falls also battered Singapore markets as well as its dollar. Most Asian markets dropped on news of the Indonesian unrest.