Demo broken up at gunpoint

Run-up to the Indonesian election ———————————

INDONESIAN soldiers broke up a demonstration by Muslim youths carrying mock coffins and flaming torches in the Central Java city of Yogjakarta as tensions between rival parties escalated in the run-up to this month’s general election.

Soldiers armed with riot gear charged the demonstration held by 120 youths yesterday morning after they took to the streets to protest against last week’s attack on local branches of the Muslim-based United Development Party (PPP).

Reports said that the youths carried three mock coffins, a mock corpse, flaming torches and incense to symbolise the death of democracy. They chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) as they marched or rode in convoys of motorcycles waving green flags. Some also burned car tyres in the streets.

Security forces dispersed the procession by pointing their rifles at the protesters when they stopped near the Kraton or Sultan’s palace in the city centre. No shots were fired, however.

A PPP cadre told The Straits Times that none of the youths sustained serious injuries during the incident, adding that the party was investigating the reasons behind the protest.

“It must be a reaction to the obstacles that have been placed before the PPP by Golkar and the military,” said another cadre.

Several incidents have flared up between the ruling Golkar party and PPP in Yogjakarta over the past week.

On Wednesday night, two PPP branches were pelted with stones and ransacked by a mob. A day later, about 1,000 PPP supporters damaged roadside lamps and burned tyres in protest against the attack on their offices.

In Ujung Pandang, South Sulawesi, a PPP mass rally attended by some 5,000 people on Thursday turned violent when a mob pelted a electricity station causing a power failure there.

Several PPP branches have boycotted the elections to register their protest against the attacks on their offices and “unfair” election rules which PPP sources say favoured Golkar.

Meanwhile, the Central Java military commander, Major-General Subagyo Siswoyo, whose troops have been called in repeatedly over the past month to quell unrests in the region, has warned that the security forces would not hesitate to take action against those who violate campaign rules.

“The regulations are very clear,” he told reporters in Semarang, stressing that national unity came before party interest.

According to Central Java police, nine people were killed and 20 injured in the past six days of campaigning.

Analysts believe that the Indonesian armed forces would pay more attention to Central Java, East Java and West Kalimantan during the elections given the recent violence there.

Indonesia’s national election supervision committee chairman Singgih, was quoted by the Jakarta Post yesterday as saying that all three political parties had breached campaign rules in the first week of hustings.

He said that the removal of party flags and banners, and physical clashes between rival party supporters were common offences.

He also said that motorcades had been the most difficult violation to control although the three party leaders and government had agreed to ban them.

But he noted: “None of the violations can be be categorised as subversion.”

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