Indonesia’s riot-hit towns calm again

CALM returned yesterday to two Indonesian towns hit by riots on Monday, but military personnel remained on a high security alert.

According to Pasuruan police chief, Lieutenant-Colonel Wisnu, military and police units are still patrolling the riot-prone East Java coastal town.

During the disturbances there on Monday, more than 300 rioters stoned shops and threatened to burn them down in protest against rising prices.

Security forces fired warning shots to disperse the mob and arrested 31 people.

Lt-Col Wisnu said that 28 of them were released, but three were being charged with criminal offences.

He said the military apparatus was prepared to confront any disturbance that may take place because of the current unfavourable economic climate that had seen the rupiah lose 80 per cent of its value against the US dollar.

“We are anticipating problems, which is why the troops are still out there,” he said.

The situation was also calm yesterday in the South Sulawesi capital of Ujungpandang, where sources said that at least one ethnic Chinese was killed after rioters attacked his store on Monday.

Public comments by government officials have so far blamed price increases of basic commodities for the violence in Pasuruan, Ujungpandang and 10 other towns and villages in densely populated Java and in Sulawesi.

The brunt of the rioters’ fury has been felt mostly by ethnic Chinese.

There were disturbances last week in the Central Java district of Rembang and nearby towns of Lasem and Sarang, with mobs targeting shops owned by ethnic Chinese.

The disturbances then spread across the provincial border into East Java, with rioters damaging shops and indulging in a looting spree.

In the case of Pasuruan, Lt-Col Wisnu said that many stores had taken advantage of the Aidilfitri holidays to increase the prices of goods.

“That obviously angered many people and gave them a reason to cause trouble,” he said.

He stopped short of saying that political motives were responsible for the riots.

Military sources, however, believe that troublemakers are out to whip up unrest ahead of next month’s presidential election.

Posted in Indonesia