Jakarta: Indonesia's third president, Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, who was the first person to lead the country after 32 years of the Soeharto dictatorship, has died.

He was 83 years old. The family of the former engineer-turned-politician confirmed his death on Wednesday evening.

Though he served as president for only 16 months, Habibie will be remembered by Indonesians most of all for pushing through democratic and economic reforms (during the Asian Financial Crisis) and the flowering of a free press after the long years of Soeharto's autocratic rule at the dawn of the reformasi era.

He will also be remembered in Australia and around the world for allowing East Timor to hold an independence referendum on August 30, 1999 - a move opposed by influential sections of the military establishment - and which surprised the then-Howard government, which had initially urged the restive province be granted autonomy rather than full independence.

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