Former Indonesian president Wahid dies at 69

AP News
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Posted: Dec 30, 2009 12:27 PM

Former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, who briefly ruled during the nation's first tumultuous years of democracy and sought peace in far-flung secessionist provinces, died Wednesday. He was 69.

Wahid, known fondly by his nickname Gus Dur, was a proponent of moderate Islam and democratic reformer who ultimately was unable to implement his ambitious ideas in the vast island state of 235 million people.

During nearly two years in power, from October 1999 to July 2001, Wahid created a broad coalition of unity amid political and financial chaos in the wake of the downfall of late dictator Suharto in 1998 after 32 years.

Wahid had been receiving treatment in the intensive care unit of Ciptomangunkusumo Hospital in Jakarta for the past week and died Wednesday evening.

Professor Yusuf Misbach, head of his medical team, said the former president died during surgery to remove a blood clot in his heart. Wahid's condition had deteriorated because of complications with diabetes and kidney failure, he said.

Wahid had struggled with illness for years. He was confined to a wheelchair, lost most of his sight, and suffered serious kidney problems.

"We lost a great statesman who had dedicated all of his life to the nation, struggling for the sake of those suffering from injustice," his younger brother, Solahuddin Wahid, told The Associated Press.

In a nationwide speech on television, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed his condolences to the family and announced he will preside over the funeral scheduled for Thursday in Wahid's hometown of Jombang.

He also ordered a week of national mourning and flags lowered to half-staff.

"On behalf of the state government ... I offer the highest condolence," said Yudhoyono, who visited Wahid minutes before he died.

Presidential spokesman Julian Pasha noted Wahid was well regarded among Indonesians.

"We lost one of our greatest figures, who was very much loved by people from all walks of life," said Pasha.

Abdurrahman ad-Dakhil Wahid was born Sept. 7, 1940 in the East Java town of Jombang. He was the son of Wahid Hasyim, an independence hero and a minister of religion in the government of Sukarno, Indonesia's founding father.

Abdurrahman Wahid once led the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Islamic group. As chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, Wahid continued to push for interfaith dialogue and accepted an invitation to visit Israel in October 1994. In 1997, he traveled to Tel Aviv where he jointly signed a peace charter promoted by the Simon Perez Institute.

"He was a very open person ... All minorities, underdogs or those suffering always felt secure with him. That was very extraordinary," said Franz Magnis-Suseno, a Catholic priest. "He was a humanist ... For people like me, he emitted a friendly Islam that made us feel safe."

Wahid was an opponent of Suharto in the dictator's final years in power. Wahid attempted to establish a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate political killings, disappearances and massacres during Suharto's 32-year rule.

Wahid was elected Indonesia's third president on Oct. 20, 1999. While in office, he worked for peaceful solutions to secessionist movements in restive provinces such as Aceh and Papua.

He visited East Timor after it became a new nation and apologized for human rights abuses committed by Indonesian forces during its brutal 24-year occupation. Wahid also removed the powerful Gen. Wiranto from his Cabinet over his alleged role in the bloodshed in East Timor.

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Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos contributed to this report.