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As Suharto hovers near death, Indonesians ask whether its time to forgive
Indonesia Suharto A 5846613
An Indonesia protester holds a placard picture two former Indonesian president Soekarno and Suharto with discription that read 'If Sukarno is Suharto' during an anti-Suharto demonstration in Solo, Central Java, Indonesia, Tuesday, Jan 15, 2008. Dozens of Student and activists staged a rally urging the government to keep bring former president Suharto to the justice. Indonesian ex-dictator Suharto developed a potentially deadly infection of the blood and his heart became unstable Tuesday, members of his medical team said. - photo by Associated Press
    JAKARTA, Indonesia — 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’s condition took another grave turn Tuesday, with doctors saying he had developed sepsis, a potentially life-threatening blood infection, on top of multiple organ failure. But by Wednesday, doctors had contained the sepsis and Suharto was being taken off a respirator after his breathing improved.
    Despite positive signals, Suharto’s ‘‘general condition is still unstable,’’ warned chief presidential physician Marjo Subiandono.
    Some believe, with machines keeping Suharto alive, it could be a matter of days before physicians give up hope. The family has already said it would not stand in the way.
    That has sparked debate about whether it is time to exonerate Suharto, whose 32-year rule ended in 1998 after the Asian financial crash triggered nationwide riots and massive rallies, opening the way for democracy in this predominantly Muslim nation of 235 million. He retired from public life after his ouster, rarely venturing from his mansion on a quiet, tree-lined street in the capital, Jakarta.
    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.’’
    President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono disagrees, though he helped spark the debate by sending the attorney general to the hospital late last week to offer Suharto’s family the chance to settle a pending $1.5 billion civil corruption suit out of court. Defense attorneys rejected the proposal, saying there was no graft.
    ‘‘It’s not appropriate to talk about the pros and cons of former President Suharto’s legal issues while he is critical condition,’’ Yudhoyono said later, calling on the public to end all such debate.
    Few on the streets were listening, however, saying that was for them to decide.
    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.
    He said that stigma has always stayed with him. While many people point to the decades of economic expansion under Suharto, ‘‘I have lived in poverty with my four children, who also could not get jobs, for my whole life’’
    Rais — who came to personify the student protest movement with his fiery anti-Suharto speeches, often made from the top of a minivan before tens of thousands of thundering demonstrators — said he understands the pain of victims.
    But 10 years and four presidents since Suharto’s ouster, no one has succeeded in getting him to court, and it appears now that no one ever will.
    ‘‘He’s dying, it’s too late to bring him to justice,’’ said Rais. He still believes Suharto ordered the killing and imprisonment of his political opponents and engaged in widespread corruption, but thinks all charges should be dropped and that the focus should now be on his millionaire children and cronies.
    ‘‘Maybe this is the time to forgive.’’
    Associated Press Writer Irwan Firdaus contributed to this report from Solo.

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