Under these authoritarian rulers, Indonesia suppressed ethnic and other dissent. In the mid 1960s, the government crushed what it claimed was a communist uprising and massacred thousands of Chinese whose ancestors had settled in Indonesia.
In 1998, riots forced Suharto from power. Since then, elected governments have worked to build democracy, strengthen the economy, and fight corruption. In recent years, it has attracted much foreign investment capital, which has helped it develop an expanding economy.
In 1975, Indonesia seized East Timor, which had been a Portuguese colony for centuries. Many of the largely Catholic East Timorese wanted independence. For more than 25 years, they pushed their struggle. The Indonesian government responded by imprisoning leaders, burning towns, and slaughtering civilians.
Helped by UN peacekeepers, East Timor finally won independence in 2002. This very poor new nation struggled to meet its people's need for jobs and decent living standards.
Inspired by East Timor's success in breaking away, several other regions have demanded independence from Indonesia. Rebels in Papua, on the island of New Guinea, sought independence, as did Muslim separatists in Aceh (AH chay) in the northwest.
Islamist extremism has challenged Indonesia's long tradition of religious tolerance. Terrorist groups in Indonesia have targeted foreigners and non-Muslims. In the some parts of the country, fighting between Muslims and Christians has killed thousands.
Natural disasters have added to Indonesia's troubles. In 2004, a tsunami (tsoo NAH mee), or giant wave, devastated the coast of Aceh and killed more than 100,000 people. The tsunami also ravaged Thailand, Sri Lanka, and other lands around the Indian Ocean. Following the disaster, rebels in Aceh and the Indonesian government signed a peace accord. Helped by international aid donors, they worked together to rebuild Aceh.
Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda, meet with the press at their palace. The pair was accused of embezzling government money to fund their lavish lifestyle.
How has diversity posed challenges to Indonesia?
Like Indonesia, the Philippines include thousands of islands with diverse ethnic and religious groups. Catholics make up the majority of the population, but many Filipino Muslims live in the south. In 1946, the Philippines gained independence after almost 50 years of American rule. American influence remained strong through military and economic aid.
Although the Filipino constitution set up a democratic government, a wealthy elite controlled politics and the economy. The peasant majority was poor. For years, the government battled Huks (hooks), local communists with strong peasant support. Ferdinand Marcos, was elected president in 1965. Marcos had promised reform, but instead became a dictaor. He cracked down on basic freedoms and forced opponents into exile. He even had Benigno Aquino (beh NEE nyoh ah KEE noh), a popular rival, murdered.
When Marcos finally held elections in 1986, voters chose Corazon Aquino (kawr ah SOHN), the widow of the slain Benigno.