Americans, Canadians evacuated from Jakarta
Americans and Canadians begin leaving Indonesia Friday
Uneasy calm returns as death toll tops 250
May 15, 1998
Web posted at: 10:43 p.m. EDT (0243 GMT)
JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- In a signal of rapidly eroding
confidence in the political situation in riot-torn Indonesia,
about 800 Americans and Canadians were evacuated Saturday,
leaving in the early hours of the morning in chartered jets.
The Indonesian government "was no longer in a position to
guarantee the security of Americans," said U.S. Ambassador J.
"We couldn't predict what was going to happen," he said.
By late Friday, security forces in Jakarta were able to
restore an uneasy calm, but not before at least 230 more
people died during the latest bout of violence. Most of the
victims perished when four shopping centers were set on fire
with looters still inside.
Friday was a Muslim holy day in predominately Muslim
Indonesia, and there were concerns that the violence, which
claimed 24 lives Thursday, might escalate again on Saturday
once the holy day was over.
Despite the calm in the capital, there were sporadic reports
of mobs burning and looting shops in several cities across
the sprawling country of 200 million people.
Government announces price cuts
President Suharto, who cut short a visit to Egypt to return
home to deal with the worst political crisis in his 32 years
of authoritarian rule, has yet to appear in public, huddling
Charred bodies are carried from a shopping center
burned by rioters
But the government did announce that oil and electricity
prices would be cut. Higher prices for these and other items
announced earlier this month helped trigger the unrest that
has swept the country.
However, the chorus of voices demanding Suharto's ouster grew
stronger. A group of retired generals urged Suharto to go,
and Kosgoro, a major faction within his ruling Golkar
coalition, also called for him to step down.
"If he won't step down peacefully, then we must force him to
leave," said a Kosgoro leader, speaking on condition of
"This regime is facing its end, its death. There's no way to
avoid or postpone it," said Amien Rais, a key opposition
U.S. backs off from support for Indonesia
U.S. President Clinton, speaking at a summit of major world
leaders in England, also distanced his government from
Suharto, a staunch U.S. ally.
"Giving the people of Indonesia a real voice in the country's
political affairs can make a real contribution to restoring
political order and stability based on human rights and the
rule of law," Clinton said.
French President Jacques Chirac said Indonesia needed a
leadership capable of taking the necessary measures to
restore order and warned that "if nothing happened in
Indonesia, one could seriously fear the crisis will resume."
Other countries consider evacuations
The departure of the Americans and Canadians marked the first
large organized evacuation of internationals since violence
escalated this week, although planes out of the country have
been jammed with individuals, including many Indonesians, who
decided to leave on their own.
A soldier stands guard as Americans gather at the U.S.
Evacuees, given just 12 hours notice and allowed to carry out
only one bag apiece, were flown to Bangkok and Singapore.
They included nonessential members of the countries'
diplomatic staffs and family members of diplomats and
business people. Essential embassy staff remained.
U.S. firms doing business in Indonesia told their employees
to pack, put them on buses and sped them to Jakarta's
airports on Friday. Oil powerhouses like Mobil, Atlantic
Richfield and Conoco said they had begun airlifting employees
out of the capital, as did Citicorp, Merrill Lynch and other
Canadian Ambassador Gary Smith said priority was given to
children, the elderly and the infirm. More flights were
planned over the weekend for those who could not get seats on
the first flights.
Japanese officials said they were drawing up contingency
plans to send military aircraft into Jakarta to evacuate
their citizens. Malaysia planned evacuation flights for
Australia advised its 20,000 citizens to leave, and British
Ambassador Robin Christopher said his embassy was advising
British nationals to stay indoors. British Airways planned a
shuttle service between Jakarta and Malaysia over the weekend
to assist those wishing to leave.
Correspondent Mike Chinoy and Reuters contributed to this