Australia's Keating: "I told Suharto to go"

( dpa ) - Former Australian prime minister Paul Keating has claimed he could be the only person to tell former Indonesian strongman Suharto to his face that he ought to hand over power.

"You can imagine, there's not many other people in history who have actually lined up to someone like Suharto and told him to resign," Keating was quoted as saying Friday in an excerpt from a documentary that the SBS television network will air next month. "It turned out that person was me."

Suharto, 86, who ruled Indonesia for 32 years before handing over power in May 1998, is close to death in a Jakarta hospital.

Keating, prime minister from 1991 to 1996, flew to Jakarta in January 1998 to plead with Suharto to stand aside.

Their meeting came just hours before a famous ceremony at which Suharto signed an economic rescue package in the presence of then International Monetary Fund managing director Michel Camdessus. The haughty Frenchman stood over the former five-star general with his arms folded in an attitude that gave grave offence to Indonesians.

"I said, 'Today you're king again, but you're king for a day only. When you go down to sign this document, you're in charge. And when you're in charge, you should say you're going,'" Keating quoted himself as saying to Suharto during a 90-minute meeting.

Several of Suharto's ministers and cronies claimed after his fall that they had met privately with him to urge him to retire but their accounts have been disbelieved.

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