Suharto: to Forgive or Not Forgive
Jakarta, Jan 15 - Ten years ago, Amien Rais led thousands of demonstrators chanting "Hang Suharto!" to the halls of parliament, where they demanded the resignation of a man widely regarded as one of the most brutal and corrupt leaders of the 20th century.
Today, with the former dictator on his deathbed, Rais has a different message: forgive. But not everyone agrees, with protesters taking to the streets to demand the 86-year-old face justice.
Suharto is accused of overseeing a purge of more than half a million leftist opponents soon after seizing power in a 1965 coup, and killing or imprisoning hundreds of thousands more in the decades that followed - crimes for which no one has ever been tried.
He and his family also allegedly amassed billions of dollars in state funds, but defense attorneys have argued successfully for years that a series of strokes have left him unfit to stand trial.
"Maybe it is best if he dies, unforgiven by some, forgiven by others," said Goenawan Mohamad, 68, the founder and editor of Tempo magazine, which was forced to close twice during Suharto's regime because of its criticism of the government.
"But the debate should continue," he said at an outdoor cafe where former dissidents used to meet secretly. "It won't stop, it shouldn't."
Nearly 100 former political prisoners and relatives of those who died under Suharto rallied Tuesday in the city of Solo - not far from the mausoleum where the ex-dictator will be buried alongside his late wife. Some carried signs that said "Try Suharto before he dies!"
At the very least, they said, he should be tried in absentia.
"I was wrongly accused of being a communist," said 80-year-old Wiryo, who said he was rounded up during Suharto's 1965 takeover and thrown in jail, where he spent the next eight years.