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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Exodus as Indonesia Descends To Chaos




JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Trapped in blazing shopping malls, hundreds of looters burned to death Friday as rioting and lawlessness rocked the Indonesian capital.


Troops patrolled in armored personnel carriers and shot at unruly crowds.


President Suharto ordered 10,000 troops out to keep order in the streets and rolled back some of the government-ordered price increases that had so inflamed the poor.


Hundreds of foreigners heeded the advice of their governments and flew out of the country. With commercial airlines swamped with passengers, the U.S. Embassy and multinational companies chartered evacuation flights to handle the crush.


The U.S. embassy's evacuation plan was overwhelmed when almost 2,000 Americans applied for 800 seats on two Boeing 747s that took off for Singapore and Bangkok after midnight.


Businesses closed down and told local employees to stay home. Jakarta's downtown business district -- which has been spared from the looters because of a heavy police presence -- was eerily quiet.


As expatriates flew out, Suharto flew in, cutting short an overseas trip to Egypt to deal with the turmoil rocking his homeland.


Indonesia is struggling to cope with its worst economic and political crisis in decades, and sharp increases in the prices of basic goods and services last week have further impoverished ordinary Indonesians. Anger spilled over into the streets Tuesday after police shot and killed six anti-government protesters at a student rally.


The austerity measures were a condition of the International Monetary Fund's $43 billion aid package to bail out the southeast Asian nation.


At least 230 looters died as they pillaged four shopping malls that were set ablaze in different parts of the city, witnesses said.


Officials feared the death toll could double as families frantically sifted the ruins for the missing. Many bodies were taken away by relatives who did not notify officials.


"I'm looking for my son. I told him not to loot but he went with his friends,'' one man said as volunteers brought out human remains on makeshift stretches.


Many remains were little more than burned skeletons. Some victims were found clinging to the items they had stolen. At least 175 people died at the Yoga Plaza in east Jakarta, according to local media reports. Witnesses reported dozens dead at the other three sites.


Another mall in south Jakarta was still burning Friday night. Police said 30 people were believed to have died inside it but flames were too hot for a search to begin. Four others died when they jumped from a five-story store engulfed by fire.


The toll from the fires adds to the deaths of at least another 24 people, including four soldiers, killed in clashes between rioters and security forces this week.


Shopping malls, which sprang up across the capital before an economic boom went bust last year, have been a favorite target for rioters too poor to shop there even in good times.


Despite the deaths, looting continued with gusto Friday. At one ransacked mall crowds fought over stolen goods like shoppers at a bargain basement sale.


"I'm taking things because I have no money,'' said one man who carried a bundle of clothes out of one ransacked store.


Police said about 800 looters were arrested. Some suffered special humiliation. Soldiers forced several dozen looters to walk through the streets in their underwear, and then paraded them on military trucks with stolen goods in their mouths.


"I will not steal. I will not steal,'' one looter was ordered to say. Others were forced to wade through a polluted canal as punishment.


Suharto held a series of emergency meetings Friday before announcing cuts to fuel price hikes. Still, that might not be enough to quell a growing chorus for him to step aside after 32 years in power.


Kosgoro, one of the major factions within Suharto's ruling Golkar party, issued a statement Friday demanding he return the mandate to govern bestowed on him by Parliament.


"If he won't step down peacefully, then we must force him to leave,'' said a Kosgoro leader who spoke on condition of anonymity.


It was the first sign of open rebellion within the 76-year-old president's once-mighty political machine.


In England, President Bill Clinton lamented the "destructive developments'' in Indonesia but said the question of Suharto stepping down was up to the Indonesian people.