Abri says it again : We will get tough

Pledge to crack down on anarchy as student protests grow; with hikes in fuel, electricity, transport prices.

INDONESIA’S military chief yesterday warned student protesters against “sliding into anarchy”, as he renewed a pledge to crack down on those who break the law.

General Wiranto’s comments, signalling a hardening line in the military leadership towards the growing student protests, coincided with an announcement by the government of sharp hikes in fuel, electricity and transport prices.

The fuel subsidy cuts came way ahead of the deadline agreed with the International Monetary Fund, and seemed designed to underline Jakarta’s resolve to implement difficult reforms, just hours before the fund’s Executive Board was due to decide on further disbursements from a US$43 billion (S$67 billion) bail-out package.

General Wiranto, who is also Defence Minister, issued the warning to students after a meeting yesterday with President Suharto.

He said students should stay on their campuses. He noted that the anti-Suharto demonstrations had led to destruction of property when students moved out of campus grounds, especially in the north Sumatran capital of Medan. He said: “There is proof that if students go out of the campus, the protests become uncontrollable. It has been proved in Medan.

“I have ordered the military to take stern action against activities that are clearly moving towards anarchy, like in Medan. I have ordered commanders to take stern action against students who damage property outside campuses.”

Meanwhile, analysts warned that the sudden increases of 25 to 70 per cent for seven kinds of fuel oils could inflame unrest as a knock-on, inflationary effect squeezed a populace already hit by rising unemployment and worried about food security.

Long queues sprang up at petrol stations by mid-afternoon yesterday and some kiosks posted “closed, no more gas” signs quickly as consumers tried to beat the midnight price increase of 71 per cent for petrol, to 1,200 rupiah (Singapore 27 cents) per litre.

The price of kerosene, a fuel widely used by the poor for cooking, was raised by only 25 per cent to 350 rupiah per litre. But most would still be hit by the increase in bus fares by about two- thirds.

Rail fares would almost double to 27.50 rupiah/km, also from midnight. Electricity tariffs were also due to rise 20 per cent this month, with further 20 per cent increases in August and November.

Mr Suharto, who approved the price hikes, was quoted by Mines and Energy Minister Kuntoro Mangkusubroto as saying that the decision was difficult, but one that the government had to make, given its rising subsidy bill.

But, obviously concerned about the likely political repercussions at a time when students have demonstrated daily for him to step down, he authorised the military to take stern measures to stem the rising tide of protests.

While warning the students yesterday, Gen Wiranto stressed at the same time that Abri considered them as “cadres, not enemies”, and that they could still hold protests on their campuses.

He reminded them that there were groups out to take advantage of them.

“When students go outside their universities to protest, they risk being manipulated by other parties, ” he said.

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