JAKARTA (AFP) – Former Indonesian President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, who ushered in an era of democratic reforms after the downfall of long-time dictator Suharto, was buried Friday in a state funeral with full military honours.
Thousands of mourners lined the streets of the capital, Jakarta, to watch the motorcade carrying the body of Indonesia’s third president to the Kalibata heroes’ cemetery. Many called out the name of the man whose presidency was the shortest in modern Indonesian history but was transformative.
President Joko Widodo led the ceremony, attended by more than 700 politicians, government officials, foreign diplomats and public figures, including former presidents Megawati Soekarnoputri and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
“He is a true statesman, an inspirator, a scientist who believes that without love intelligence is dangerous,” Widodo said in a farewell speech. “He is truly a role model for all of the nation’s children … surely Indonesia has lost one of its best sons.”
Islamic prayers were said, and as his body was lowered, mourners tossed flower petals into his grave, alongside that of his wife of 48 years, Hasri Ainun Habibie, a medical doctor who died in 2010. A military band played a dirge.
Habibie died Wednesday at Jakarta’s Gatot Subroto army hospital, where he had been undergoing treatment for heart problems since Sept. 1. He was 83.
In a televised speech announcing Habibie’s death, President Widodo called the former aircraft engineer and politician a “world-class scientist” and “the father of Indonesian technology.”
Habibie was born in June 1936 in a small town in South Sulawesi, and studied aviation and aerospace engineering in Germany and the Netherlands before returning home in the mid-1970s.
Suharto asked him to help industrialise the country. He chaired the state-owned aviation company Industri Pesawat Terbang Nusantara and then served as minister of research and technology for 20 years.
Habibie was sworn in as Indonesia’s third president in 1998, just two months after becoming vice president to Suharto, who ruled for three decades until mass protests forced his resignation.
Habibie helped usher in a transition to democracy for the world’s most populous Muslim nation and stabilise the economy, which was reeling from the Asian financial crisis and decades of corruption.
In a surprise move in 1999, Habibie announced a referendum on independence for East Timor, a former Portuguese colony ruled by Indonesia.
The vote was held later that year and the East Timorese overwhelmingly voted for independence, sparking a wave of deadly unrest.
Habibie served for just 17 months as president — he withdrew from contention in the October 1999 election and was succeeded by Abdurrahman Wahid.
He is survived by two sons.