Jakarta Riots of May 1998
The May 1998 Riots of Indonesia were incidents of mass violence
A riot is a form of civil disorder characterized often by what is thought of as disorganized groups lashing out in a sudden and intense rash of violence against authority, property or people. While individuals may attempt to lead or control a riot, riots are thought to be typically chaotic and...

 that occurred throughout Indonesia
Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...

, mainly in Medan
- Demography :The city is Indonesia's fourth most populous after Jakarta, Surabaya, and Bandung, and Indonesia's largest city outside of Java island. Much of the population lies outside its city limits, especially in Deli Serdang....

 in the province of North Sumatra
North Sumatra
North Sumatra is a province of Indonesia on the Sumatra island. Its capital is Medan. It is the most populous Indonesian province outside of Java. It is slightly larger than Sri Lanka in area.- Geography and population :...

 (4–8 May), the capital city of Jakarta
Jakarta is the capital and largest city of Indonesia. Officially known as the Special Capital Territory of Jakarta, it is located on the northwest coast of Java, has an area of , and a population of 9,580,000. Jakarta is the country's economic, cultural and political centre...

 (12–15 May), and Surakarta
Surakarta, also called Solo or Sala, is a city in Central Java, Indonesia of more than 520,061 people with a population density of 11,811.5 people/km2. The 44 km2 city adjoins Karanganyar Regency and Boyolali Regency to the north, Karanganyar Regency and Sukoharjo Regency to the east and...

 (also called Solo) in the province of Central Java
Central Java
Central Java is a province of Indonesia. The administrative capital is Semarang. It is one of six provinces on the island of Java.This province is the province of high Human Development in Indonesia and its Points Development Index countries is equivalent to Lebanon. The province of Central Java...

 (13–15 May). The riots were triggered by economic problems including food shortages and mass unemployment
Unemployment , as defined by the International Labour Organization, occurs when people are without jobs and they have actively sought work within the past four weeks...

, and eventually led to the resignation of President Suharto and the fall of the New Order
New Order (Indonesia)
The New Order is the term coined by former Indonesian President Suharto to characterize his regime as he came to power in 1966. Suharto used this term to contrast his rule with that of his predecessor, Sukarno...


It was estimated that more than a thousand people died in the riots. At least 168 cases of rape were reported, and material damage was valued at more than Rp 3.1 trillion. As of 2010, legal proceedings regarding the riots have yet to be completed.


On 27 July 1996, soldiers, police, and civilians attacked the headquarters of the Indonesian Democratic Party
Indonesian Democratic Party
The Indonesian Democratic Party was one of the two state-approved parties during the New Order era of the late 20th-century in Indonesia.-Origins:...

 (, PDI) in Central Jakarta
Central Jakarta
Central Jakarta is one of the five cities which form Jakarta, Indonesia. It had 898,883 inhabitants at the 2010 Census.Central Jakarta is the smallest in area and population of the five cities of Jakarta. It is the administrative and political center of Jakarta and Indonesia...

, which was occupied by supporters of party leader Megawati Sukarnoputri
Megawati Sukarnoputri
In this Indonesian name, the name "Sukarnoputri" is a patronymic, not a family name, and the person should be referred to by the given name "Megawati"....

, daughter of former President Sukarno
Sukarno, born Kusno Sosrodihardjo was the first President of Indonesia.Sukarno was the leader of his country's struggle for independence from the Netherlands and was Indonesia's first President from 1945 to 1967...

. Megawati had been selected as party leader in general congress in December 1993. Her selection, however, was seen as a threat by the New Order government, which suppressed free speech
Freedom of speech
Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship. The term freedom of expression is sometimes used synonymously, but includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used...

 during its 30 years in power. Popular support of Megawati and the PDI was growing leading up to the 1997 legislative election
Indonesian legislative election, 1997
Legislative elections were held in Indonesia on 29 May 1997. There were actually three elections in one as voters were electing members of two levels of regional government as well as the House of Representatives. This was to be the last election of President Suharto's New Order regime, which...

 and threatened the dominance of the ruling party Golkar. The government declared Megawati's appointment invalid and organized a new congress in June 1996, during which a new party leader was selected. The attackers said they were acting on behalf of the rightful party leadership. The incident evolved into two days of rioting in Jakarta that the government blamed on the People's Democratic Party (, PRD). Violence continued up to the election on 29 May 1997, which was won by Golkar with 74 percent of the votes. The divided PDI received only 3 percent of the votes, while the largely Muslim United Development Party
United Development Party
The United Development Party , sometimes translated as Development Unity Party is a political party in Indonesia. It is an islamic party and currently led by Suryadharma Ali.-Origins:...

 (, PPP) received 22 percent.
The election was marred by widespread cases of vote rigging, causing public outcry especially among supporters of the PPP, which had called on the government to follow a democratic process lest the results be rejected by the public. At this time, Indonesia was experiencing an economic boom with its Gross Domestic Product
Gross domestic product
Gross domestic product refers to the market value of all final goods and services produced within a country in a given period. GDP per capita is often considered an indicator of a country's standard of living....

 growing at a rate of 8 percent in 1996, led by the manufacturing sector. Five months after the election, however, it was caught in the Asian Financial Crisis which began when the Thai baht
Thai baht
The baht is the currency of Thailand. It is subdivided into 100 satang . The issuance of currency is the responsibility of the Bank of Thailand.-History:The baht, like the pound, originated from a traditional unit of mass...

 collapsed in July. The rupiah
Indonesian rupiah
The rupiah is the official currency of Indonesia. Issued and controlled by the Bank of Indonesia, the ISO 4217 currency code for the Indonesian rupiah is IDR. Informally, Indonesians also use the word "perak" in referring to rupiah...

 dropped from Rp2,450 to Rp4,000 to the US dollar between July and October, and economic growth slowed to 1.4 percent in the fourth quarter. Unable to stabilize the economy, the government sought assistance from the International Monetary Fund
International Monetary Fund
The International Monetary Fund is an organization of 187 countries, working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world...

. The rupiah declined further to one-sixth of its original value by January 1998. With rising unemployment and inflated food prices, the public lost confidence in the government's ability to turn the economy around. Violence spread throughout the island of Java
Java is an island of Indonesia. With a population of 135 million , it is the world's most populous island, and one of the most densely populated regions in the world. It is home to 60% of Indonesia's population. The Indonesian capital city, Jakarta, is in west Java...

, but the government exercised its power in February and imposed a 25-day ban on street protests. Law enforcement officials were given the authority to imprison anyone found participating in political activities in violation of the ban.

Suharto was elected by the People's Consultative Assembly
People's Consultative Assembly
The People's Consultative Assembly is the legislative branch in Indonesia's political system. It is composed of the members of the People's Representative Council and the Regional Representative Council. Before 2004, and the amendments to the 1945 Constitution, the MPR was the highest governing...

 (, MPR) to a seventh consecutive five-year term as President in March. Despite calls for economic and political reforms, his controversial Seventh Development Cabinet
Seventh Development Cabinet
The Seventh Development Cabinet was the Indonesian Cabinet which served under President Suharto and Vice President BJ Habibie from 14 March 1998 to 21 May 1998....

 included his family members and cronies, including protégé Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie as Vice President. Student demonstrations in campuses grew in intensity following these events.

Medan (4–8 May)

By the beginning of May, students had been demonstrating in campuses throughout Medan
- Demography :The city is Indonesia's fourth most populous after Jakarta, Surabaya, and Bandung, and Indonesia's largest city outside of Java island. Much of the population lies outside its city limits, especially in Deli Serdang....

 for nearly two months. The growing number of demonstrators was coupled with increasing calls from the public for overall reforms. On 27 April, the death of a student in a vehicle accident was blamed on security officials who had fired tear gas onto the campus. Over the next few days, the clashes between students and security forces grew. On 2 May, a showroom
The word showroom has two distinct meanings including:-Marketing location:A showroom is a large space used to display products for sale, such as automobiles, furniture, appliances, carpet or apparel. The World's most famous locations for a showroom are the Champs Elysees in Paris or the 5th Avenue...

 of the "national car" Timor, whose controversial development was spearheaded by the President's son Tommy Suharto
Tommy Suharto
Tommy Suharto is the youngest son of Suharto, the former President of Indonesia. In 2002 he was found guilty and jailed for giving the order for the assassination/killing of a Supreme Court Judge of the Republic of Indonesia, Syafiuddin Kartasasmita, SH.-Bali Land Scandals:Tommy in the 80s used...

, was attacked.

When the government announced on 4 May that it would increase the price of gasoline
Gasoline , or petrol , is a toxic, translucent, petroleum-derived liquid that is primarily used as a fuel in internal combustion engines. It consists mostly of organic compounds obtained by the fractional distillation of petroleum, enhanced with a variety of additives. Some gasolines also contain...

 by 70 percent and triple the price of electricity, campus groups reacted. More than 500 students gathered at the State Institute of Teacher Training and Education
State University of Medan
State University of Medan or UNIMED is a public university located in the city of Medan in North Sumatra, Indonesia.-History:State University of Medan was originally established in 1956 as the Teachers Training College in Medan...

 (, IKIP Negeri). Security forces barricaded the campus to prevent students from leaving and allegedly threw Molotov bombs
Molotov cocktail
The Molotov cocktail, also known as the petrol bomb, gasoline bomb, Molotov bomb, fire bottle, fire bomb, or simply Molotov, is a generic name used for a variety of improvised incendiary weapons...

 at demonstrators through the day. Although the students had dispersed by late afternoon, replacement forces were brought in to keep them on campus through the night. When they were allowed to return home hours later, police reportedly stopped a group of students and assaulted them. Word of this attack spread through several witnesses, and a large group later attacked and destroyed a traffic police post. As the outnumbered police fled, protesters began attacking shopping mall
Shopping mall
A shopping mall, shopping centre, shopping arcade, shopping precinct or simply mall is one or more buildings forming a complex of shops representing merchandisers, with interconnecting walkways enabling visitors to easily walk from unit to unit, along with a parking area — a modern, indoor version...

s and another police post. Thousands poured into the streets and burned cars and shops through the late night.

On the morning of 5 May, a crowd gathered at a police station where it was reported that more than 50 people suspected of involvement in the previous night's attack were detained. When more officers arrived to confront the group, the station was attacked. The crowd moved toward the nearby market of Tembung as they burned cars and attacked houses. Shops owned by Chinese Indonesians were looted, while they reportedly left those marked with the words "" (owned by the indigenous pribumi
Native Indonesians are also known as Pribumi, literally meaning "sons of the soil", is a term that refers to a population group in Indonesia that shares a similar sociocultural heritage...

) in graffiti alone. When the Mobile Brigade arrived in the afternoon, the crowd was dispersed with tear gas. As businesses in Medan closed on the following day, thousands of people attacked markets throughout the city and its surrounding districts. Police and anti-riot soldiers fired rubber bullet
Rubber bullet
Rubber bullets are rubber or rubber-coated projectiles that can be fired from either standard firearms or dedicated riot guns. They are intended to be a non-lethal alternative to metal projectiles...

s at the crowd to disperse them but were unsuccessful. When the violence ended two days later, six people had died (two by gunshot) and one hundred were injured (nine with gunshot wounds). Police detained 51 people for questioning, and damage was estimated in the hundreds of billions of rupiah.

Jakarta (12–14 May)

On 9 May, one day after the violence in Medan ended, President Suharto left the country for a Group of 15
Group of 15
The Group of 15 was established at the Ninth Non-Aligned Movement Summit Meeting in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in September 1989.This informal forum was set up to foster cooperation and provide input for other international groups, such as the World Trade Organization and the Group of Eight...

 summit in Cairo, Egypt. Prior to his departure, he called on the public to end the protests. To the Suara Pembaruan
Suara Pembaruan
Suara Pembaruan is an Indonesian afternoon daily. Founded in 1987 as a replacement for Sinar Harapan, it is one of the largest newspapers in Indonesia.-History:...

daily newspaper, he said, "I judge that if we keep going like this there will be no progress." He later returned to Indonesia earlier than scheduled on 14 May, when violence in Jakarta reached its worst. The campus of Trisakti University
Trisakti University
Trisakti University is a private university in Jakarta, Indonesia. Founded on 29 November 1965, the university has more than 30,000 students.It has several campuses and nine faculties:*Faculty of Law*Faculty of Medical Sciences*Faculty of Dentistry...

 in Grogol, West Jakarta, became the site of a gathering of 10,000 students on 12 May. They had planned on marching south toward the Parliament building
DPR/MPR Building
The DPR/MPR Building is the seat of government for the Indonesian legislative, which comprises the People's Consultative Assembly the People's Representative Council and the Regional Representatives Council .-History:...

, but security forces refused to allow them to leave the campus. When the students conducted a sit-in outside the campus gates, shots broke out
Trisakti shootings
The Trisakti shootings occurred at Trisakti University, Jakarta, Indonesia on 12 May 1998. At a demonstration asking for president Suharto's resignation, soldiers opened fire on unarmed protestors. Four students, Elang Mulia Lesmana, Heri Hertanto, Hafidin Royan, and Hendriawan Sie, were killed;...

 after rocks were allegedly thrown at police. In the ensuing chaos, four students were killed.

Catalyzed by the student deaths, mass violence began almost simultaneously throughout Jakarta the following day. The Matahari department store in the eastern district of Jatinegara and Yogya Plaza in Klender were torched. It was estimated that at least 1,000 people died inside the buildings during the fires. Mobs also attacked Glodok
Glodok is a part of the Jakarta, Indonesia. The area is also known as Pecinan or Chinatown since the Dutch colonial era, and is considered the biggest in Indonesia, as a majority of the traders in Glodok are of Chinese descent...

 in the northwestern part of the city, where the commercial area of Jakarta's Chinatown was badly damaged. Some store owners reportedly paid local thugs to protect them from the violence because security forces were largely absent. Riots also occurred near the port of Tanjung Priok
Tanjung Priok
Tanjung Priok is a subdistrict of North Jakarta, Jakarta, Indonesia. It hosts the western part of the city's main harbour, the Port of Tanjung Priok...

 in the north, the city of Tangerang
Tangerang is a city in the Province of Banten, Indonesia. It is located about 25 km west of Jakarta. It is the third largest urban center in the Jabotabek region after Jakarta and Bekasi. It has an area of 164.54 km² and an official intercensal estimated population of 1,537,244 for 2005...

 to the west, and Kebayoran Baru in the south. Properties owned by Chinese Indonesian
Chinese Indonesian
Chinese Indonesians, also called the Indonesian Chinese, are an overseas Chinese group whose ancestors emigrated from China to Indonesia, formerly a colony of the Netherlands known as the Dutch East Indies...

s were the most common targets.

Surakarta (14–15 May)

Student protests in Surakarta
Surakarta, also called Solo or Sala, is a city in Central Java, Indonesia of more than 520,061 people with a population density of 11,811.5 people/km2. The 44 km2 city adjoins Karanganyar Regency and Boyolali Regency to the north, Karanganyar Regency and Sukoharjo Regency to the east and...

 (also called Solo) began as early as March at the Muhammadiyah University of Surakarta
Muhammadiyah University of Surakarta
The Muhammadiyah University of Surakarta is a university in Surakarta that is owned by Muhammadiyah.-External links:*...

 (, UMS) and the Sebelas Maret University
Sebelas Maret University
Sebelas Maret University is an Indonesian public university in the suburban area of Surakarta, Central Java, Indonesia. It is colloquially known as UNS or UNS Solo.-History:...

 (, UNS) and grew over the next two months, prompting the police to station officers outside both campuses in order to prevent them from entering the streets. On 8 May, later known as "Bloody Friday", a clash between UNS students and police forces resulted in hundreds of wounded students. There was also evidence of gunfire as police launched tear gas canisters and fired rubber bullets.

UMS students clashed with security forces on 14 May during a protest of the Trisakti shootings in Jakarta. A report of the incident claimed that the violence was provoked by students throwing objects at police from campus grounds. Security forces were unable to disperse the group, and the angered mob of 1,000 moved eastward into the city. A showroom of Timor cars was attacked, much like the violence in Medan earlier in the month. Kostrad
Kostrad is the Indonesian Army's Strategic Reserve Command. Kostrad is a Corps level command which has up to 35,000 troops...

 (Army Strategic Reserve) forces arrived as the crowd attacked banks and public buildings in the city center and prevented them from reaching the city hall. From there, they broke up into smaller groups and attacked the surrounding districts of Surakarta. More people poured into the streets when tire
A tire or tyre is a ring-shaped covering that fits around a wheel rim to protect it and enable better vehicle performance by providing a flexible cushion that absorbs shock while keeping the wheel in close contact with the ground...

s were lit on fire at intersections. Because 11 companies
Company (military unit)
A company is a military unit, typically consisting of 80–225 soldiers and usually commanded by a Captain, Major or Commandant. Most companies are formed of three to five platoons although the exact number may vary by country, unit type, and structure...

 of the Mobile Brigade, crowd control forces, and Kostrad soldiers had remained on the UMS campus, downtown Surakarta was left unprotected. Additionally, members of the Kopassus
Kopassus is an Indonesian Army special forces group that conducts special operations missions for the Indonesian government, such as direct action, unconventional warfare, sabotage, counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, and intelligence gathering.Kopassus was founded on April 16, 1952...

 (special forces
Special forces
Special forces, or special operations forces are terms used to describe elite military tactical teams trained to perform high-risk dangerous missions that conventional units cannot perform...

) had left the city earlier in the day. A group of 15 "provocateurs" was said to have directed crowds using walkie-talkie
A walkie-talkie is a hand-held, portable, two-way radio transceiver. Its development during the Second World War has been variously credited to Donald L. Hings, radio engineer Alfred J. Gross, and engineering teams at Motorola...

s and incited some of the violence using crowbars
Crowbar (tool)
A crowbar, a wrecking bar, pry bar, or prybar, or sometimes a prise bar or prisebar, and more informally a jimmy, jimmy bar, jemmy or gooseneck is a tool consisting of a metal bar with a single curved end and flattened points, often with a small fissure on one or both ends for removing nails...

 to open buildings and throwing Molotov bombs into them.

Because electricity was cut throughout the city that evening, residents were not able to receive television and radio coverage of the events. Instead, they relied on the local newspaper Solo Pos for accounts of the previous day on 15 May. As the attacks continued to a second day, 10,000 student protesters organized a separate peaceful protest and marched from the UNS campus to the city hall, explaining that they were not connected to the mob violence.

Other cities

On 14 May, 1998, in Sidtopo, Surabaya
Surabaya is Indonesia's second-largest city with a population of over 2.7 million , and the capital of the province of East Java...

, rioters targeted Chinese-owned stores and homes, burning their contents. After the riots, ten thousand Madurese patrolled the streets, armed with celurit
Celurit is a sickle with a pronounced crescent-blade patterns and a long handle, used in pencak silat. When compared to the arit, the celurit is slightly larger. The celurit is an arm typical to the Madurese and frequently used by them as well as by the leaders who called themselves Sakera....

. The Joint Fact Finding Team found two cases of rape and four cases of sexual assault.

On 14 May, 1998, at least ten offices, banks, and showrooms in Padang
Padang, Indonesia
Padang is the capital and largest city of West Sumatra, Indonesia. It is located on the western coast of Sumatra at . It has an area of and a population of over 833,000 people at the 2010 Census.-History:...

, West Sumatra
West Sumatra
West Sumatra is a province of Indonesia. It lies on the west coast of the island Sumatra. It borders the provinces of North Sumatra to the north, Riau and Jambi to the east, and Bengkulu to the southeast. It includes the Mentawai Islands off the coast...

, had rocks thrown at them by student rioters on the way to the Provincial People's Representative Council office of West Sumatra.

On the same day, in Palembang
Palembang is the capital city of the South Sumatra province in Indonesia. Palembang is one of the oldest cities in Indonesia, and has a history of being a capital of a maritime empire. Located on the Musi River banks on the east coast of southern Sumatra island, it has an area of 400.61 square...

, South Sumatra
South Sumatra
South Sumatra is a province of Indonesia.-Geography:It is on the island of Sumatra, and borders the provinces of Lampung to the south, Bengkulu to the west, and Jambi to the north...

, ten shops were burned, more than a dozen cars were burned by rioters, and dozens of people were injured by rocks thrown by students marching to the Provincial People's Representative Council office of South Sumatra. Thousands of police and soldiers were put on guard at various points in the city. The Volunteer Team for Humanity reported that cases of sexual assault
Sexual assault
Sexual assault is an assault of a sexual nature on another person, or any sexual act committed without consent. Although sexual assaults most frequently are by a man on a woman, it may involve any combination of two or more men, women and children....

 also took place.

On 15 May, 1998, at roughly 14:20 WIB
Time in Indonesia
The Indonesian archipelago geographically stretches across four time zones from UTC+7 in Banda Aceh to UTC+9 in Western Papua. However, The Indonesian government only recognizes three time zones in its territory: Western Indonesian Time—seven hours in advance of Greenwich Mean Time ,...

, thousands of rioters from Surakarta arrived in Boyolali
Boyolali is a regency in the eastern part of Central Java province in Indonesia. Its capital is Boyolali.-Geography:The capital also named as Boyolali and lies 27 km to the west from Solo....

, burning factories, cars, and homes, as well as looting stores near the Boyolali market. Banks were closed due to threats to burn the Bank Central Asia
Bank Central Asia
Bank Central Asia is an Indonesian bank founded on August 10, 1955.The Asian monetary crisis in 1997 had a tremendous impact on Indonesia’s entire banking system. In particular, it affected BCA’s cash flow and even threatened its survival. Panic rush forced the bank to seek assistance from the...

 branch in Salatiga
Salatiga is a city in Central Java, Indonesia, located between the cities of Semarang and Surakarta. It sits at the foot of Mount Merbabu and Mount Telomoyo, and has a relatively cool climate due to its elevated position.-Origin of name:...

, and rioters blocked the road from Semarang to Surakarta.

Government response

Violence in Medan drew the attention of national security officers. General Wiranto
Wiranto is a retired Indonesian army General. He was Commander of the military of Indonesia from February 1998 to October 1999, and ran unsuccessfully for President of Indonesia in 2004 and the vice-presidency in 2009....

, Commander of the Armed Forces (, Pangab, or Panglima ABRI), toured the affected areas on 6 May and committed his forces to help restore calm to the city. Two days later, Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto of the Kostrad
Kostrad is the Indonesian Army's Strategic Reserve Command. Kostrad is a Corps level command which has up to 35,000 troops...

 (Army Strategic Reserve) deployed one of his units "to support local troops and assured the public that others were ready to go into troubled areas should the need arise". Neither effort, however, was able to contain the violence as the riots continued in Medan for another three days following Wiranto's visit, leading the public to believe that few orders were carried out by the deployed units. Order was finally restored when regional military commander Yuzaini requested the help of community leaders and youth organizations to arrange for local patrols () with security forces. Security inaction continued as violence escalated in Jakarta, and the military leadership in charge of security in the capital city—Wiranto, Prabowo, and General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono AC , is an Indonesian politician and retired Army general officer who has been President of Indonesia since 2004....

—were absent. Military and police response in the capital was inconsistent. Soldiers in the northern area of Mangga Besar allegedly stood by and allowed looters to walk away with stolen goods. In Slipi
Palmerah is a Subdistrict of West Jakarta, Indonesia. The Subdistrict is roughly bounded by Jakarta-Merak Tollway to the north, Batusari - Rawa Belong Road to the west, Palmerah Barat - Palmerah Utara Road to the south, and Aipda K. Sasuit Tubun Road - Western Flood Canal to the east.Let Jend S...

 to the west, soldiers reportedly risked their lives to protect civilians.

In Surakarta, Armed Forces representative Colonel Sriyanto denied allegations of neglect by the military. He claimed that ground forces were limited because some units were en route to Jakarta while the few left behind were assisting police in controlling protesters at the Muhammadiyah University. For the most part, the military portrayed the violence "in terms of mobs gone mad, acting in an uncontrollable and spontaneous manner, outnumbering security forces". Susuhunan Pakubuwono XII
Pakubuwono XII
Pakubuwono XII was the twelfth Susuhunan and the longest ruling of all monarchs in Javanese history....

, the traditional monarch of Surakarta, condemned the violence as behavior "not in line with the cultural values held by (Solonese)". He also made a rare appearance on 19 May to demonstrate solidarity by the elites with victims of the violence. In a meeting with 5,000 students at his palace complex, he pledged a symbolic amount of Rp1,111,111 to support the students' calls for reform.

As it was evident that Suharto had lost control of his senior military leaders, he resigned one week after the violence on 21 May. Two months later, on 23 July, his successor Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie appointed a Joint Fact Finding Team (, TGPF) to conduct an official investigation of the May riots. During the investigation, the team had difficulty finding witnesses who were willing to testify about the violence, and the team was only given three months to investigate riots in six cities. Data collected by the team largely came from non-governmental organizations and the state-sponsored Communication Forum for National Unity (, Bakom PKB), which had compiled numerous police reports on the incidents. The full report totaling hundreds of pages was never distributed to the public and was only available to members of the team, relevant government ministers, and a few researchers. The media received a 20-page summary in both Indonesian and English, which was then distributed widely on the Internet.

Public reaction

Chinese Indonesian
Chinese Indonesian
Chinese Indonesians, also called the Indonesian Chinese, are an overseas Chinese group whose ancestors emigrated from China to Indonesia, formerly a colony of the Netherlands known as the Dutch East Indies...

s in Medan became victims of the local (gangsters) who threatened the community with violence. Prior to the rioting, the Chinese commonly used extra-legal methods to ensure their protection and security. Consequently, groups who extorted money from the Chinese—sometimes agents of government—saw them as nothing but "cash cows". During the violence, however, intimidation was often followed by the looting of Chinese-owned stores and businesses. Chinese Indonesians were angered and felt betrayed by this action, and many fled the area for Malaysia, Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

, or other locations in Indonesia. Those who remained checked into indigenous-owned hotels or armed themselves to form a community defense group. However, local community members distinguished this incident from previous anti-Chinese violence because threats against the Chinese were "a part of the socioeconomic and political structure of the city". They believed that the riots were incited by either student demonstrations or thugs who sought to discredit the reform movement.
Stories of sexual violence with perpetrators shouting anti-Chinese slogans and other verbal abuses during the Jakarta riots shocked Indonesians. As the incidents were represented as state-sponsored violence
State terrorism
State terrorism may refer to acts of terrorism conducted by a state against a foreign state or people. It can also refer to acts of violence by a state against its own people.-Definition:...

, national and international groups became more vocal in calling for reform and the government to step down. Muhammadiyah
Muhammadiyah is an Islamic organization in Indonesia. Muhammadiyah, literally means "followers of Muhammad"...

 leader Amien Rais
Amien Rais
Amien Rais is a prominent Indonesian politician who led and inspired the reform movement that forced the resignation of President Suharto in 1998. Amien Rais was the leader of Muhammadiyah, one of the two biggest Muslim organizations in Indonesia, from 1995 to 2000...

 denounced the violence in Surakarta, which he saw as more destructive than the riots on Jakarta. The Islamic organization manages the UMS campus, where student clashes with police on 14 May prompted the ensuing violence. His statement that the Surakarta incident was orchestrated by a (puppeteer) rather than unorganized masses became a national headline. Unlike in Jakarta, local citizens in Surakarta did not view the violence in their city as anti-Chinese. This image was further cultivated by the insistence of influential Chinese Indonesians that the causes were "multifaceted". Most of the Chinese who fled during the violence returned after it had subsided, unlike those in Medan in Jakarta.

International reaction

When the Jakarta riots began, the United States Government ordered the evacuation of "dependents and non-essential personnel". The Department of State
United States Department of State
The United States Department of State , is the United States federal executive department responsible for international relations of the United States, equivalent to the foreign ministries of other countries...

 also recommended US citizens to leave the country using commercial flights or evacuation flights organized by U.S. forces. The and its "Flying Tigers
Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 is a United States Marine Corps helicopter squadron consisting of CH-46E Sea Knight transport helicopters...

" Marine Helicopter Squadron were stationed in the region as part of a contingency evacuation plan for U.S. citizens and embassy personnel, known as Operation Bevel Incline. In the Department of State's "Indonesia Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998", the US accused Suharto's government of committing "serious human rights abuses". Between the 1997 election of the riots, students and human rights activists were kidnapped and tortured while in the custody security forces. The report also mentioned that police stoned and fired at foreign journalists covering a clash between students and security forces on 6 May.
As news of attacks on Chinese Indonesians during the violence reached the international ethnic Chinese community, the riots were labeled as "anti-Chinese" in nature. In a letter to President Habibie, leader of the Hong Kong Democratic Party
Democratic Party (Hong Kong)
The Democratic Party is a pro-democracy political party in Hong Kong. It was established on 2 October 1994. The party is currently the second largest party in the Legislative Council, headed by Chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan and, following the November 2008 merger with the Frontier, had around 745...

 Martin Lee
Martin Lee
Martin Lee , QC, SC, JP, was the founding chairman of the Democratic Party in Hong Kong. He was a directly-elected Member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong for the Hong Kong Island geographical constituency...

 wrote, "The severity of these two days of mayhem evoked comparisons to the Nazi regime's attacks against Jews." Ethnic Chinese organized protests through the website Global Huaren, founded by Malaysian Chinese
Malaysian Chinese
Malaysian Chinese is a Malaysian of Chinese origin. Most are descendants of Chinese who arrived between the fifteenth and the mid-twentieth centuries. Within Malaysia, they are usually simply referred to as "Chinese" in all languages. The term Chinese Malaysian is also sometimes used to refer to...

 emigrant Joe Tan in New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

. Tan founded the website in response to "seeming indifference" around the world and spread news of the violence to professionals and colleagues. Members then coordinated rallies at Indonesian embassies and consulates in major Pacific Rim
Pacific Rim
The Pacific Rim refers to places around the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The term "Pacific Basin" includes the Pacific Rim and islands in the Pacific Ocean...

 cities. Solidarity from the international community brought about a renewed awareness of ethnic and national identity—Indonesian and Chinese—among Chinese Indonesians "because for so long the one had been sacrificed for the other".

China's cautious response to the issue caused an uproar among human rights groups. Following protests at the Indonesian embassy in Beijing, Foreign Minister
Foreign Minister of the People's Republic of China
The Foreign Minister of the People's Republic of China is the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China and one of the country's most important cabinet posts...

 Tang Jiaxuan
Tang Jiaxuan
Tang Jiaxuan was foreign minister of the People's Republic of China from 1998–2003.After various diplomatic postings in Japan, he became Assistant to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1991, Vice minister of foreign affairs in 1993 and Minister of foreign affairs from 1998 to 2003...

 made a direct appeal to the Indonesian government to ensure the protection of Chinese Indonesian communities. During a visit to Jakarta in November, Chinese Premier
Premier of the People's Republic of China
The Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China , sometimes also referred to as the "Prime Minister" informally, is the Leader of the State Council of the People's Republic of China , who is the head of government and holds the highest-ranking of the Civil service of the...

 Jiang Zemin
Jiang Zemin
Jiang Zemin is a former Chinese politician, who served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China from 1989 to 2002, as President of the People's Republic of China from 1993 to 2003, and as Chairman of the Central Military Commission from 1989 to 2005...

 said that "Chinese Indonesians will not only serve ... the long term stability of Indonesia, but also ... the smooth development of the relationship of friendly cooperation with neighboring countries." The riots became known in China as "Black May" , named after a VCD
VCD is a three-letter abbreviation with multiple meanings, as described below:* VCD Athletic, semi-professional football team* Video CD* Voice command device* Value change dump * Vocal cord dysfunction* Visual Communication and Design...

 documentary of the events released by the China Radio and Television Publishing House in October. Compared to China's approach, the Taiwanese government took on a more active role in demanding the trial of those involved in the violence and protection for victims. It threatened to withdraw investments from the country, estimated at US$13 billion in 1998, and block the entry of Indonesian workers, whose population in Taiwan had reached 15,000. Taiwan justified the threats "based on the principles of protecting overseas Chinese
Overseas Chinese
Overseas Chinese are people of Chinese birth or descent who live outside the Greater China Area . People of partial Chinese ancestry living outside the Greater China Area may also consider themselves Overseas Chinese....

 and protecting human rights". On 9 August, Minister of Investment Hamzah Haz
Hamzah Haz
Hamzah Haz is an Indonesian politician. He is the head of the United Development Party and served as the ninth Vice-President from 2001 until 2004....

 flew to Taiwan and apologized for the violence while promoting Indonesia as an investment destination. At the same time, a Taiwan delegation met with Wiranto, who was now Defence Minister under Habibie, as well as several other government ministers.

As the crisis grew, the British Embassy in Jakarta issued notices to companies and registered nationals that all Britons must leave Indonesia as soon as possible and organized a limited number of bus convoys from the Jakarta Embassy grounds to Soekarno-Hatta airport and repatriation flights to the UK. However, this completely ignored British nationals living outside the Jakarta area who were unable to reach the convoys. They either had to evacuate themselves by their own initiative and financial means or stay put and keep a low profile and hope for the best. The British Embassy in Indonesia did not perform as well as it could have in keeping nationals informed and organizing evacuation of nationals living beyond Jakarta.

In Jawa Timur, from 14 May onwards, many foreign expats and their dependants made their way by road, in convoy, to Surabaya Airport to leave the country. However, over the coming days, aggressive and sometimes armed crowds increasingly lined roads through towns in the mainland on the way to Surabaya
Surabaya is Indonesia's second-largest city with a population of over 2.7 million , and the capital of the province of East Java...

 Airport, ultimately temporarily blocking roads. However, one Dutch-based international construction company had been prepared for possible evacuation some time and on 16 May, avoiding the Surabaya option, evacuated its expat family dependants and junior staff in the opposite direction (which was still quiet) via car convoy to Banyuwangi
The Regency of Banyuwangi is located at the easternmost end of the Indonesian island of Java and it is a very strategic area for those who want to go to Bali, since it also serves as an important ferry port between Java and Bali. It is surrounded by mountains and forests to the west; by sea to the...

 Ferry and onward to Bali, Denpasar Airport to be repatriated. Meanwhile, their few senior expat staff (of various Western nationalities) remained at the project to maintain work progress, keep order, give confidence to their Indonesian colleagues and pay local staff as long as possible. However, these expats’ “last-ditch” emergency plan was ready at a moment’s notice, to travel by fast motor boat to Bali, thus avoiding growing numbers of rioters becoming active on the road to Bali and who were increasingly targetting Chinese-Indonesians (including Christians and their churches) and even fellow Muslim-Indonesians of rival clans, political or other Islamic outlook.

The Australian government put on patrol duties off Jawa Timur, contacting registered Australian nationals in the area to prepare them for possible evacuation. On 18 May, the Dutch contractor’s (mentioned above) Australian Construction Manager received a phone call from an Army Major on board Canberra, advising him to gather any Australians he knew of on the project in case emergency evacuation became necessary. In that event, armed helicopters from Canberra, carrying armed troops, would land at the project and evacuate them. The Construction Manager advised the company had a handful of Dutch personnel and a "Scottie" at the project too, whereupon the Major confirmed they would be evacuated too. In the event, the threat of violence peaked on 20/21 May, but the emergency evacuation options, by boat or helicopter, did not become necessary.


For more than a week after the riots in Jakarta, locals feared for their own safety and stayed home. Most banks, businesses, and public buildings remained closed in major cities throughout the country. Some government offices reopened for commemoration of National Awakening Day on 20 May. Despite fears that the riots could worsen, only three minor incidents occurred in smaller cities. Data compiled by the fact finding team on the human toll of the violence in the capital was conflicting. The non-governmental Volunteers for Humanity (, TRuK) reported 1,109 deaths from fire, 27 gunshot deaths, 91 wounded, and an additional 31 missing. Police reports counted 463 dead and 69 wounded, while the city government only reported 288 dead and 101 wounded. Property damage was estimated at Rp2.5 trillion (US$238 million), with the city government reporting 5,723 buildings and 1,948 vehicles destroyed, while police reports counted 3,862 buildings and 2,693 vehicles. Damage in Surakarta was estimated at Rp457 billion (US$46 million), with Chinese Indonesians suffering most of the material losses.

Members of the Joint Fact Finding Team appointed by Habibie believed their mandate for seeking the truth behind the violence included drawing conclusions and making recommendations. Although they were given access to members of the military elite, their findings came into conflict with the military and the government. Unwilling to let go of "the power to be gained by having a monopoly over ... 'representations' of the violence", government officials and the military elite inside and outside Suharto's circle rejected or ignored the team's findings. Sections of the report were also challenged by the national media. The People's Representative Council
People's Representative Council
The People's Representative Council , sometimes referred to as the House of Representatives, is one of two elected national legislative assemblies in Indonesia....

 (, DPR) eventually declared the riots "ordinary crimes" during the Megawati administration (2001–2004). The collapse of Suharto's government also led to the intensification of separatist movements
Separatism is the advocacy of a state of cultural, ethnic, tribal, religious, racial, governmental or gender separation from the larger group. While it often refers to full political secession, separatist groups may seek nothing more than greater autonomy...

 in the outlying provinces of Aceh
Aceh is a special region of Indonesia, located on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra. Its full name is Daerah Istimewa Aceh , Nanggroë Aceh Darussalam and Aceh . Past spellings of its name include Acheh, Atjeh and Achin...

, Papua, and East Timor
East Timor
The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, commonly known as East Timor , is a state in Southeast Asia. It comprises the eastern half of the island of Timor, the nearby islands of Atauro and Jaco, and Oecusse, an exclave on the northwestern side of the island, within Indonesian West Timor...

. Ethnic and religious conflicts also flared in Maluku and Central Sulawesi
Central Sulawesi
Central Sulawesi is a province of Indonesia located in the centre of Sulawesi. It was established on 13 April 1964....

 as law and order deteriorated. In a January 1999 poll by daily newspaper The Jakarta Post
The Jakarta Post
The Jakarta Post is a daily English language newspaper in Indonesia. The paper is owned by PT Bina Media Tenggara, and the head office is in the nation's capital, Jakarta....

, 77 percent of respondents rated public safety levels as bad or very bad. Economic conditions continued to fluctuate in the first few months of Habibie's presidency, and the National Police
Indonesian National Police
The Indonesian National Police is the official police force for Indonesia. It had formerly been a part of the Tentara Nasional Indonesia. The police were formally separated from the military in April 1999, a process which was formally completed in July 2000. With 150,000 personnel, the police form...

 reported that crime increased by 10 percent during 1998.

Alleged military involvement

Based on reports of military inaction during the riots, the Joint Fact Finding Team made an unprecedented allegation against the military elite. The team concluded that "the Armed Forces had failed to anticipate the riot, that there was a lack of adequate communications between those in command and those on the ground, and that, as a consequence, the forces had responded tardily in most cases and sometimes not at all". Soldiers allegedly allowed rioting to continue in some areas, while others were hesitant to fire at civilians in accordance with Armed Forces doctrine. Evidence of decision making at the "highest levels" of government led the team to conclude the violence was "an effort to create a critical situation that required a form of extra-constitutional government to control the situation". However, its members admitted that the story lacked a crucial link between the military and rioters.
Investigations revealed that violence in Jakarta was the result of an internal struggle within the military elite to become Suharto's successor, with evidence that some of the damaged areas were near military installations with reports that riot organizers had military-like characteristics. Many believed Kostrad commander Prabowo Subianto sought to become his father-in-law's successor and coveted the Commander of the Armed Forces position held by General Wiranto, who was favored to succeed Suharto. He was also suspected of organizing the kidnappings of students and activists prior to the 1997 election. Together with Operations Commander for Greater Jakarta (, Pangkoops Jaya) Major General Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, Prabowo aimed to terrorize opponents of the government and to show that Wiranto was "an incompetent commander who could not control disorder". During the months of August and September, the fact finding team interviewed Prabowo, Sjafrie, and other military commanders regarding their movements during the Jakarta riots. Prabowo asserted that he was unsure of the precise movements of military forces in the capital and deferred to Sjafrie. In the meantime, the Operations Commander was vague in his testimony and stated that security forces were protecting "priority locations".

In its final report, the fact finding team suspected that, on the night of 14 May, Prabowo met with several Armed Forces and prominent civilian figures at the Kostrad headquarters to discuss organization of the violence. However, this was later refuted by several people who attended the meeting, including prominent human rights lawyer Adnan Buyung Nasution and Joint Fact Finding Team member Bambang Widjojanto. Further testimonies by Prabowo in the years following the investigation contradicted the team's report and led to skepticism of the team's allegations. When Suharto resigned his mandate on 21 May, both Prabowo and Wiranto were bypassed in favor of a constitutional power transfer to Vice President Habibie. Prabowo was transferred to a non-active position on the following day before being discharged from service in August. He and Wiranto denied that the discharge was a result of disciplinary action.

Effect on Chinese Indonesian communities

Provocateurs, suspected to be military, goaded rioters, screaming ethnic insults like "Cina babi!" (The Chinese are pigs!) and "Ganyang Cina!" (Crush the Chinese!). The provocateurs also shouted commands, directing the riots towards Chinese-owned businesses and away from Native Indonesian-owned ones.

In this climate of fear, between 10,000 and 100,000 ethnic Chinese, who made up about 3-5% of Indonesia's population, fled the country. Thousands of foreign nationals and expatriates left Indonesia, some evacuated by their embassies.

Rape incidents

There were dozens of documented accounts of ethnic Chinese women being raped. Other sources note over 1,500 people were killed and over 468 (168 victims in Jakarta alone) were mass gang-raped in the riots. There is a possibility of 5000 dead. TRUK recorded 168 cases of sexual assault, with 152 in Jakarta and the remaining 16 in Surakarta, Medan, Palembang, and Surabaya; of these victims, twenty had died by 14 July 1998. The US State Department noted in its report:
Rape cases were under-reported as the Criminal Code would only consider penetration by a male sexual organ as rape. Rape by other objects by sharp or blunt object are not regulated in the Criminal Code's article on rape. Also, according to the Indonesian Criminal Code, a rape victim has to provide witnesses and evidence, the May 1998 rape victims being deeply traumatized and unable to present the evidence since the crime happened over a decade ago.

Numerous dramas and other works of fiction have been written in response to the 1998 riots, especially regarding the racial aspects and rapes of Chinese-Indonesian women. These include Putri Cina (Chinese Princess), by Sindhunata, which deals with the loss of identity experienced by Chinese-Indonesians after the riots and is written in part from the point of view of a rape victim.

External links

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