Fire-bombs, rubber shots fly in Medan

For a third straight day, violence erupts when police clash with students during anti-govt protests

CONFRONTATION between student protesters and police has escalated to a deadly new level with demonstrators in Medan hurling fire-bombs and the troops shooting riot-breaking rubber bullets.

Yesterday was the third straight day that police fired to break up a demonstration and the second day that they had to dodge Molotov cocktails, which are lighted petrol-filled bottles, in the North Sumatran capital of Medan.

Violence erupted yesterday when security forces stopped about 1,000 students at the state-run University of North Sumatra from leaving their campus to stage an anti-government protest in the streets.

Sources in Medan said about 100 troops in full riot gear used dozens of canisters of tear gas, injuring at least 10 students who were admitted to hospital.

“The students resorted to violence and petrol bombs because they were unhappy with the heavy-handed tactics of the police,” said one university lecturer who declined to be named.

On Friday, a similar clash took place at the St Thomas Catholic University in Medan, with witnesses saying that students had armed themselves with petrol bombs to confront the security forces.

This is the first time since demonstrations began in various parts of Indonesia that students are resorting to Molotov cocktails and of police opening fire.

The Jakarta Post, which reported the clash on Friday, quoted a student as saying: “This was the most violent demonstration here in the last few months.”

The battle between students and the military on these two occasions followed a clash on Thursday when police used rubber bullets to stop students from the Medan Technological University demonstrating in the streets.

A senior military officer, a two-star general in charge of political and security matters, told The Sunday Times it was not the policy of the Indonesian armed forces (Abri) to take a hardline approach against demonstrating students.

“That is why we are holding regular dialogue sessions with them,” he said. “But there is a limit to a soldier’s patience when students taunt and throw rocks at him for hours. A soldier is also human.”

The Abri source disclosed that there were extremist elements infiltrating the students movements across the country which explained the escalating violence.

“Our intelligence reports tell us that most of the students are not keen on resorting to violence, but there are a few die-hards who are being influenced by external parties.” Police, meanwhile, detained about 40 students during an anti-government protest at the Ibnu Chaldun University in East Jakarta. They were taken into custody when police blocked about 500 students from taking their protest outside the campus.

Thousands of students from various universities were reported to have marched peacefully through the streets of Ujung Pandang, the capital of South Sulawesi, after Friday Muslim prayers.

The province’s military commander, Major-General Agum Gumelar, was the only security chief to allow street marches.

“Although their activity has not abated, their demonstrations have remained tolerable, secure and under control,” the official Antara news agency yesterday quoted him as saying.

Student activists from the University of Hassanudin told The Sunday Times that they welcomed this move and would not resort to violence “because the military was being civil about the whole matter”.

Student protest started in mid-February in the run up to the presidential poll. Demonstrations in support of reforms have broken out in Yogyakarta in Central Java, Bandung in West Java, Surabaya in East Java, and Manado in North Sulawesi.

Posted in Indonesia