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The President's Last Day

How to decide enough is enough? For Indonesia's Suharto, the end of his more than 32 years in power came late at night on Wednesday - a day of betrayal, persuasion, and pressure. Conversations yesterday with a minister of the just-dissolved Cabinet, a well-placed military officer, and other analysts in Jakarta yield a rough account of Suharto's last full day as Indonesia's president.

* A massive show of military force turns the Jakarta city center into a ghost town, at least as far as civilians are concerned. But in the central Javanese city of Yogyakarta, approximately a half-million people gather to call for Suharto's resignation and other cities see smaller rallies and protests.

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* The National Assembly, which normally hosts a staid and compliant legislature, takes on a defiant, carnival-like atmosphere as student protesters continue their occupancy of its buildings and grounds.

* Suharto receives a letter from National Assembly leaders telling the president he must resign or the Speaker will begin the process of convening a special session of Indonesia's de facto electoral college to select a new chief executive.

* Other prominent Indonesians also turn on Suharto, rejecting invitations to join a "reform Cabinet" and "reform council" the president wants to create. In previous days key Muslim leaders and other presidential visitors have told him to step down.

* In the late afternoon, a group of 11 members of Suharto's Cabinet meets at the offices of the National Planning Board. Led by Ginanjar Kartasismata, the top economic minister, they decide to resign and communicate their decision to Suharto in writing.

* Later General Wiranto, the commander in chief of the armed forces, meets with the chiefs of the three military services and the national police at the Defense Ministry. Gen. Wiranto and other officers proceed to Suharto's private residence on Cendana Street to see the president, and then return to the ministry.

* During the evening, other Suharto allies come to the Cendana house to meet the president, including Vice President B.J. Habibie and two former vice presidents. Wiranto, accompanied by other generals, again visits the president and again goes back to his ministry.

* Before midnight, it is known inside the ministry that the president has decided to step down, news that is greeted with relief and happiness. Wiranto again meets with the chiefs to work on a statement he will read after Suharto resigns the next morning. Among other things, he will promise that the military will protect the ex-president and his family.

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It remains unclear what convinced Suharto he must step down at a time when he was actively considering other options, such as the appointment of a special state security committee to restore order. Wiranto's role is also murky. He may have been a persuader or crossed the line into outright pressure.

One thing is certain: The center of power in Indonesia is no longer the compound of three linked houses on Cendana Street, where yesterday a security officer told a visitor the ex-president was resting.

By contrast, large numbers of elite troops guard the Defense Ministry - where lately top officers have gotten very little sleep.

Almost every analyst seems to agree that Mr. Habibie has ascended to the top job because the military wants the transition to remain constitutional. Keeping the process legal preserves the legitimacy of top generals who may want to be elected president themselves.

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