Hundreds of thousands of Indonesians marched against President Suharto Wednesday across the nation, while political leaders jockeyed for his ouster and the military took control of the riot-damaged capital.
With barbed wire and tanks, platoons of soldiers sealed off a park next to the Presidential Palace in Jakarta to block a huge anti-government protest. Opposition leaders quickly called off that rally, fearing more bloodshed.However, police estimated 250,000 people protested in Yogyakarta, Suharto's hometown, to demand that he step down immediately. Other witnesses said the turnout was twice that number.
Large but peaceful protests also erupted in a half dozen other cities, including Bogor, Bandung, Solo and Ujung Pandang. The rallies came on the anniversary of Indonesia's independence movement against Dutch rule.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called on Suharto Wednesday to "preserve his legacy" by stepping down and permitting a transition to democracy.
In a speech at a graduation ceremony for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Albright increased pressure on Suharto, with whom U.S. administrations have had little dispute during his 32 years in power.
She said of Suharto: "Now he has an opportunity for a historic act of statesmanship" by stepping down.
Outside Parliament, some 150,000 troopspoured into the streets, helicopters swooped overhead and tanks lined up beside coiled wire and wooden barricades in a potent show of support for the 76-year-old autocrat.
"Stability in the city is a top priority. We are preventing any trouble," Jakarta military commander Maj. Gen. Syafrie Syam-sudin said on television.
Despite the overwhelming military presence, students occupied Parliament for a third straight day. The very formal complex took on the atmosphere of a wild street party Wednesday as the number of students swelled to more than 10,000.
Some students danced in the main assembly hall, waded in a ceremonial pool or climbed onto the roof. Others broke into offices, tearing up official papers or turning them into paper planes that were dropped off balconies.
"Freedom!" yelled some. "Hang Suharto!" shouted others.
After opposition leader Amien Rais canceled the rally in Jakarta, students gave him a tumultuous welcome at Parliament, making it clear that he is now the focal point of anti-Suharto dissent.
Protests have skyrocketed since the government imposed IMF-mandated austerity measures earlier this month in an attempt to stem Indonesia's worst economic crisis in decades. Last week, Jakarta was rocked by rioting, looting and arson in which more than 500 people were killed.
Rais accused the military Wednesday of being ready to tolerate a "Tiananmen" situation - a reference to the massacre of hundreds of pro-democracy students by Chinese troops in Beijing's main square in 1989.
"An army general (told me) he doesn't care at all if a Tiananmen accident . . . will take place today in Jakarta," Rais said. "I was so shocked hearing this."
Jakarta residents faced another looming problem: food shortages. Stores and markets have been shut for days, many of them burned or looted in last week's riots.
The government said its state-controlled rice supplies remain adequate but cited problems with distribution.
Suharto announced Tuesday he will end his 32-year rule - but only after pressing through reforms and holding new elections. State secretary Saadilah Mursid said a reform council will be announced Thursday to draft new electoral laws and review the structure of Parliament, according to Suharto's plan.
Tanks and military trucks rolled through downtown Jakarta on Tuesday night as soldiers sealed off more than a square mile around the park where the rally was to have been held.