Suharto's Army Prepares to Deal With the Hungry

Shortage Spark Riots

Indonesia's government is as wary of public unrest as the country's Chinese and expatriates. President Suharto faces a presidential election in March and the public outcry over Indonesia's economic woes has led to growing calls for his resignation.

In response, Indonesia's regional governors have mobilized the bureaucracy, the state oil company, the Army, and even private enterprises to put out the flames of unrest before they turn into a blaze.

Government workers flood hot spots with food and oil products whenever there is a shortage, and when Chinese shop owners were too afraid to reopen their stores, soldiers filled in behind their counters to do the selling.

But the shortages that spark riots keep spreading. First rice, then kerosene, and now cooking oil and milk products are in short supply. Some hospitals have run out of some medical supplies, which are mostly imported. While the prices of some goods have tripled, Indonesians, in turn, are hoarding items, worsening the shortages.

In late January, Chinese bankers held their breath as a rush on most banks left them short of money to pay out depositors. The government quickly announced a full guarantee of all deposits and credits, persuading some Indonesians to put their money back into banks.

"We can not imagine what would have happened if we had run out of cash," a Chinese bank director says. "It was quite scary."

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