Indonesian Strongman Suharto Dies

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia's former president Suharto, whose legacy of economic development was marred by graft and human rights abuses during his 32 years in power, died on Sunday, aged 86, after suffering multiple organ failure.

"I invite all the people of Indonesia to pray that the deceased's good deeds and dedication to the nation be accepted by Allah the almighty. And to the family who are left behind, that Allah give them strength to face this trial," President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in a statement.

"Mr. Suharto has done a great service to the nation."

Suharto had been in critical condition since Jan. 4. Despite his humiliating overthrow in 1998, many regional leaders and Indonesia's elite rushed to his bedside to pay their respects.

Singapore's former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Malaysia's former leader Mahathir Mohamad flew to Jakarta, paying tribute to Suharto's role in bringing stability to the region.

Suharto's sudden illness prompted many ordinary Indonesians across the archipelago to debate his legacy and question whether he should be pardoned or whether legal proceedings against him for graft should continue.

"The civil suit must be suspended as we are in no position to represent Mr. Suharto because he has passed away. And now the prosecutors must deal with the family to sort it out," said Mohammad Assegaf, one of Suharto's lawyers.

Members of Suharto's family gathered last night at the Pertamina Hospital in Jakarta, where he was being treated.

"We, the whole family, thank everyone who has prayed for our father," said Suharto's eldest daughter Siti Hadijanti Rukmana, also known as Tutut, sobbing as she addressed a news conference at the hospital.

Officials said Suharto's body would be taken to Java's royal city of Solo on Monday for the funeral. The Suharto family mausoleum is about 35 kilometers northeast of Solo.

Suharto's body was taken by ambulance from the hospital to his house in Jakarta's leafy Menteng district, where a crowd of journalists and well-wishers had gathered in the sweltering sun.

Several women burst into tears when the ambulance arrived. Some clung to the fence or tried to touch the ambulance as it passed.

"I always remember him and all the great things he did for this nation. I remember back in the Suharto days things were much better," sobbed Helmi, a 53-year-old housewife, who said she had rushed to the house the minute she heard of Suharto's death.

President Yudhoyono and his wife, as well as religious leaders also arrived at the house to pay their respects.

"For humanity's sake, we should forgive him. Based on religion, his crimes and his deeds on earth will be subject to God's judgment only. The living can't do anything," Amidan, a member of the Indonesian Ulema Council, a grouping of Islamic clerics, told reporters.

Suharto rose to power after he led the military in 1965 against what was officially called an attempted communist coup. Up to 500,000 people were killed in an anti-communist purge in the months that followed.

Over the next three decades, Suharto's armed forces committed numerous human rights abuses, killing student activists, criminals, and opponents to the regime in the rebellious provinces of Aceh and Papua, as well as in East Timor, which Indonesia invaded in 1975.