Jakarta to enforce ban on Chinese New Year revelry

THE Indonesian authorities will crack down on anyone violating a ban on public celebrations of Chinese New Year here next week following recent disturbances in the country, an official has said.

“We need to take tougher steps these days given the uncertain economic and political conditions now,” Mr Toha Reno of the city public order office told The Straits Times yesterday.

“Things can get out of control. People could easily get angry over trivial things and riots based on ethnic issues have hit the country many times before.”

He stressed, however, that the ban outlawed celebrations in Buddhist temples and public places such as hotels, restaurants and entertainment centres.

He said: “People are free to celebrate at home. But there should be no public festivities. We want to assimilate various groups in our society and not encourage exclusivist tendencies. That is the whole purpose of the ban.”

The ban is based on a 1967 presidential decree which says that Chinese New Year is not a Buddhist holiday and cannot be celebrated at Buddhist temples.

The New Year will fall near the Aidilfitri festival on Jan 30 which marks the end of the Ramadan fasting month in the predominantly Muslim country.

“We are afraid that if there were Chinese New Year celebrations close to the Muslim festivals, they could spark jealousy in some people,” he said.

He disclosed that 200 officers from his office would be deployed at 46 Buddhist temples in Jakarta the day before and during the New Year. He added that officers would confiscate any banners, decorations or printed material related to the event.

“The officers will keep an eye on sidewalk vendors, shops and supermarkets which sell such materials,” he added.

His comments take place against a background of historical resentment against the ethnic Chinese in the country, particularly their dominance of private business.

Analysts said ethnic Chinese could be targeted as the economic crisis took hold, with the rupiah losing 70 per cent of its value against the US dollar since July last year.

Many businesses have gone bust and many observers, including military sources, believe that disturbances are likely during the Aidilfitri holidays when workers expect to be paid a bonus equivalent to a month’s salary.

Some speculate that many will not get that bonus, given the economic squeeze.

Recent social unrest in the country has been blamed on economic disparities and many fear social agitation could gather momentum as the rupiah devaluation begins to bite.

A two-star Abri general who monitors internal security developments told The Straits Times that the military was expecting problems in Jakarta and other cities such as Medan and Ujung Pandang after the Aidilfitri holidays.

“Our assessment is that they will be prone to disturbances given the economic situation coupled with resentment against some ethnic minority groups,” he said, adding that various military units would be on high alert during this period.

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