Indonesia's capital collapsed into anarchy last night after a day of intensifying violence, looting and burning. The army deployed more than 15,000 soldiers armed with automatic weapons and clubs to keep key areas intact. President Suharto was returning early from a summit in Cairo after hinting he might step down, although he gave no indication of when or how. Defence Minister General Wiranto insisted his forces had Jakarta under control, despite at least 24 deaths this week and large areas of the Glodok Chinatown falling under mob rule. Three of the dead were soldiers and another 11 ethnic Chinese who died in a fire late on Wednesday night following rioting outside Trisakti University, where troops killed six students on Tuesday. Two others died of bullet wounds yesterday when riot police opened fire on a mob which had gathered outside the University of Indonesia. General Wiranto did not rule out orders to shoot on sight, saying the military would 'continue its duty, with full responsibility and whatever the risk to maintain security in the capital'. From the top of tower blocks the city seemed ringed by fire. One of the fires gutted the central Jakarta house of Lim Sioe Liong, Jakarta's wealthiest businessman and a confidant of Mr Suharto, after looters prised open steel gates and ransacked the interior. Banks, cinemas, supermarkets and the Glodok Market in the heart of Chinatown continued to blaze. The headquarters of the Social Affairs Department, headed by Mr Suharto's daughter, Siti Hardyanti Rukmana, was also gutted. Most shops, offices and banks shut as protection against rampaging mobs, many of whom were able to loot and pillage without interruption from security forces. Employees of a west Jakarta branch of Bank Bali threw bundles of 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 rupiah notes at a mob to prevent looters from attacking. Tanks and armoured personnel carriers circling the city were at times blocked by crowds of workers, students and the unemployed. Occasional bursts of gunfire could be heard through the night. The road to the airport was blocked for hours, trapping several senior opposition leaders including moderate Muslim figurehead Amien Rais, who had earlier been due to speak in Jakarta. However, the outspoken Mr Rais later announced the formation of a 50-member pro-democracy group, the People's Council, and demanded Mr Suharto step down for the sake of the nation. Before leaving Egypt, Mr Suharto, 76, had suggested he might give up power. 'If I am no longer trusted, I will become a pandito (sage) and endeavour to get closer to God,' he reportedly told a meeting of 300 Indonesian residents. 'I will spend time to guide my children, so they become good people.' However, the leader's aides played down suggestions he was ready to quit and he did not say how he would hand over power. The constitution provides no way of transferring rule until 2003. Foreign Minister Ali Alatas insisted the remarks had been misinterpreted. 'He has said on several occasions before if the people do not have any trust in him any more then of course that is their right, and he would not oppose it as long as it is done constitutionally,' he said.