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Car bomb kills 15 in Indonesian capital

Police think the explosion in the garage of the stock exchange was politically motivated.

Renewing fears of political instability in Indonesia, a car bomb exploded Wednesday in the garage of the Jakarta Stock Exchange building, killing at least 15 people and injuring dozens more.

The midday blast triggered a chain reaction of explosions in the underground garage as scores of other vehicles caught fire. Police said an untold number of victims were still trapped in the debris late Wednesday and probably were dead from smoke inhalation.

The explosion occurred about 45 minutes before the stock exchange was due to close. The garage was packed with drivers waiting with their cars to take their employers home.

No one claimed responsibility for the blast, but police think it was politically motivated. "The intention here is to disrupt the security of the state," said police official Hanry Montael.

The bomb went off less than 24 hours before the corruption trial of former President Suharto was due to resume. The 79-year-old ex-general ruled Indonesia with an iron hand for 32 years before he was forced to step down in 1998.

Suharto is accused of stealing at least $571-million in government funds from charities while he was president. He is widely believed to have diverted billions of dollars from the state treasury to family and cronies.

Two weeks ago _ hours before Suharto's trial was to start _ a small bomb blew out the windows in a bus parked outside the temporary courtroom.

In July, a blast damaged the office of Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, who is spearheading the Suharto prosecution. The explosion occurred shortly after one of Suharto's sons was questioned in the case.

The national police chief, Gen. Rusdihardjo, who like many Indonesians has only one name, declined to speculate Wednesday on whether there was a link between any of the blasts and the Suharto case. However, he apologized for his department's inability to solve the bombings, including an explosion Aug. 1 outside the Philippines Embassy here that killed two people and injured dozens more.

"As long as the suspects are not arrested and the motive is still unclear, we should not draw any conclusion," the chief said. "I deeply apologize for not being able to resolve those previous cases."

Indonesia is facing one of its most difficult periods since President Abdurrahman Wahid took office last year after Indonesia's first fully free presidential election in decades.

Sporadic violence has plagued many of the nation's regions for months and three U.N. aid workers were slain last week by an angry mob in the province of West Timor.

The military, which has lost much of its influence since Suharto's ouster, has been widely suspected of fomenting the violence to undermine Wahid's government.

There is little chance that Suharto, who has suffered three strokes, will return to office. But some military leaders, who have extensive business interests in many outlying provinces, could benefit if Wahid, an erratic and ailing Muslim cleric, is unable to hang on to power.

The nation's financial markets have been undercut by the political and economic instability that have hampered Wahid's administration. The Jakarta Composite Index is down more than 36 percent since the beginning of the year.

In the heart of Jakarta's commercial district, smoke billowed from the underground garage for hours after Wednesday's explosion. The stock exchange was shut down and more than 1,000 office workers were evacuated.

The prominent 32-story building houses the offices of numerous companies and institutions, including the World Bank. Workers in the building reported hearing one large explosion and feeling the ground shake.

Rusdihardjo, the police chief, said investigators think the blast originated in a red van parked on the second floor of the three-level garage. He said 400 vehicles were damaged or destroyed in the explosion and ensuing fire.

"That means there could be many, many drivers trapped," said police spokesman Saleh Saaf.

Rescuers worked into the evening to make their way through the smoke and reach victims among the charred vehicles. Most of the dead were believed to be chauffeurs.