JAKARTA • Former Indonesian president B.J. Habibie, who allowed democratic reforms and an independence referendum for East Timor following the ouster of dictator Suharto, was buried yesterday in a state funeral with full military honours.
Thousands of mourners lined the streets of the capital Jakarta to watch the motorcade carrying the body of Indonesia's third president to the Kalibata heroes' cemetery. Many called out the name of the man whose presidency was the shortest in modern Indonesian history but was transformative.
Dr Habibie died on Wednesday at a Jakarta army hospital, where he had been undergoing treatment for heart problems since Sept 1. He was 83.
President Joko Widodo led yes-terday's ceremony, attended by more than 700 government officials, foreign diplomats and politicians, including former presidents Megawati Sukarnoputri and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
"He is a true statesman, an ins-pirator, a scientist who believes that without love, intelligence is dangerous," Mr Joko said in a speech. "He is truly a role model for all of the nation's children."
Dr Habibie was laid to rest alongside his wife of 48 years, Madam Hasri Ainun Habibie, a medical doctor who died in 2010.
Foreign leaders and diplomats offered their condolences, including the American and British ambassadors in Jakarta.
Singapore leaders yesterday sent their condolences to his son, Mr Ilham Akbar Habibie, and his family.
Writing in a letter, President Halimah Yacob said Indonesia has lost a leader who steered the country "with purpose and direction" during its transition to democracy and after the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his letter, said Dr Habibie had worked hard to stabilise the country in the wake of the crisis. "He also pushed for greater regional autonomy and decentralisation in Indonesia, with a view to uniting and improving the lives of all Indonesians," PM Lee said.
Singapore Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean paid his respects to Dr Habibie after arriving in Jakarta for a working visit on Wednesday.
Dr Habibie was vice-president when he was tapped to lead Indonesia by Suharto as the military dictator's 32-year hold on power crumbled in May 1998 during a student uprising and a devastating economic crash. Despite his reforms, his presidency ended after only 17 months in October 1999, when he withdrew from contention in the presidential election.
During his term, Dr Habibie apo-logised for past human rights abuses, dismantled restrictions on the media and reformed politics to allow for free elections.
He also surprised Indonesians by announcing in January 1999 a plan to hold a referendum under United Nations supervision on self-determination for East Timor - now known as Timor Leste. East Timorese voted overwhelmingly to split from Indonesia.
"He gave us two options and now East Timor is a free and independent nation. Farewell, Mr Habibie," East Timor Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak wrote on Twitter.