Indonesia’s Habibie, president during transition to democracy, dies

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Former Indonesian president B. J. Habibie succeeded Suharto as Indonesia’s third president. (AFP/File photo)
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A son of Indonesia's former President B.J. Habibie, Thareq Kemal Habibie (C in black), leads to carry his father's coffin to home, at an army hospital morgue in Jakarta on September 11, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 11 September 2019
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Indonesia’s Habibie, president during transition to democracy, dies

  • Habibie, 83, had been suffering heart failure
  • Habibie succeeded Suharto as Indonesia’s third president only months after becoming his deputy

JAKARTA: Former Indonesian president B.J. Habibie, who came to power during the country’s turbulent transition to democracy after former strongman leader Suharto stepped down in 1998, has died, his son said on Wednesday.
Habibie, 83, had been suffering heart failure, Tariq Kemal Habibie told Metro TV.
An engineer by training, Habibie succeeded Suharto as Indonesia’s third president only months after becoming his deputy, just as the country sank into a spasms of rioting and economic upheaval.
He held power for 17 months until the late Abdurrahman Wahid became president and his tenure was marked by his agreeing to a referendum for the people of former Portuguese colony East Timor.
Indonesian troops invaded in December 1975 and the following year annexed East Timor as its 27th province.
But Habibie abruptly changed longheld policy in January 1999 and said East Timor could have independence if it rejected autonomy within Indonesia. The East Timorese later voted for independence, unleashing a wave of violence.
Habibie was also known for his quest to turn Indonesia into a technological powerhouse, including trying to develop a national aircraft industry.
President Joko Widodo, speaking at the hospital where Habibie was being treated, described Habibie as a “world class scientist and the father of technology in Indonesia.”


Johnson the Brexit ‘Hulk’ finally meets EU’s Juncker

Updated 16 September 2019
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Johnson the Brexit ‘Hulk’ finally meets EU’s Juncker

  • Downing Street has confidently billed the Luxembourg visit as part of efforts to negotiate an orderly divorce from the union

LUXEMBOURG: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker for talks Monday insisting a Brexit deal is possible, despite deep skepticism from European capitals with just six weeks to go before departure day.
After a weekend in which he compared himself to comic book super-smasher Hulk, the British leader will enjoy a genteel working lunch of snails and salmon in Luxembourg with the EU Commission president.
Downing Street has confidently billed the Luxembourg visit as part of efforts to negotiate an orderly divorce from the union before an October 17 EU summit.
A UK spokesman said Johnson would tell Juncker that “progress has been made, given that before the summer recess many said reopening talks would not be possible.
“The UK needs to enact the referendum result and avoid another delay; the UK wants to deliver Brexit and move on to other priorities, and EU member states’ leaders want to renegotiate an orderly Brexit.”
But Brussels has played down talk of a breakthrough, insisting Johnson has yet to suggest any “legally operable” proposal to revise a previous withdrawal accord.
As he shook hands with Johnson, Juncker declared himself “cautiously optimistic” and insisted that “Europe never loses patience” despite the tortuous Brexit saga dragging on over three years.
Finland’s European affairs minister, Tytti Tuppurainen, who was chairing an EU ministerial meeting in Brussels, gave a more downbeat assessment, repeating the bloc’s long-standing complaint that London has simply not come up with detailed ideas for replacing the so-called “Irish backstop” section of the divorce deal.
“The European Union is always ready to negotiate when a proper proposal from the UK side is presented,” Tuppurainen said.
“So far I haven’t seen any proposal that would compensate the backstop.”
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who joined the leaders for their talks in Juncker’s native Grand Duchy, said last week he has “no reason to be optimistic.”
The European Parliament will this week vote on a resolution rejecting Johnson’s demand that the backstop clause be stripped from the deal.
Johnson insists this measure, which temporarily keeps the UK in the EU customs union, has to go if he is to bring the agreement back to the House of Commons.
But the accord will also have to win the support of the other 27 EU leaders and the European Parliament if Britain is not to crash out with no deal on October 31 — a scenario that businesses warn would bring economic chaos.
Johnson, in turn, boasts that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask his European counterparts to postpone Brexit for a third time.
“Be in no doubt that if we cannot get a deal — the right deal for both sides — then the UK will come out anyway,” Johnson said, writing in the Daily Telegraph on Monday.
A UK spokesman said that Britain would refuse an extension even if one were offered.
It is difficult, then, to see what might come from the lunch. There is no plan for a joint statement, but Barnier will meet Britain’s Brexit minister Stephen Barclay for separate discussions.
Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Barclay indicated that any post-Brexit transition period could be extended past 2020 in order to resolve issues with the border.
Johnson, meanwhile, compared himself to Marvel comics hero Hulk, the rampaging mutant alter-ego of a mild-mannered nuclear scientist.
“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets and he always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be,” Johnson told the Mail on Sunday.
Johnson’s strategy faces resistance at home, where rebel and opposition MPs have passed a law aimed at forcing him to seek a Brexit delay.
Britain’s Supreme Court will rule this week on a bid to overturn Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament and limit time to debate the crisis.
Barnier will address the European Parliament session in Strasbourg on Wednesday as MEPs vote to reaffirm and reinforce the EU Brexit stance — and insist that the backstop must stay.
After his lunch with Juncker, Johnson is due to meet Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel. The pair will hold a joint news conference.