BJ Habibie, Indonesian president who paved the way for Timor-Leste’s independence referendum, dies

17 September 2019

BJ Habibie, former Indonesian president who granted Timor-Leste an independence referendum in 1999, died last Wednesday (11/09/2019) at age 83.

Habibie came into power in 1998, taking over from General Suharto, who had governed with an oppressive regime for 32 years. Habibie ruled for a short 17 months after the Timorese population voted overwhelmingly in favour for their independence.

The decision to hold a vote on such a matter was controversial and caused an explosion of violence on the island. The violence continued and strengthened after the vote’s results, with Indonesian forces being responsible for 200,000 deaths.

Before his death, Habibie was visited and comforted by Xanana Gusmao, the first president of an independent Timor-Leste. He was received by Habibie’s family members, including his two sons.

His death seems somewhat timely, passing almost exactly 20 years after the 1999 referendum vote, marking and reminding people of his legacy.


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