250 people killed in torched shopping malls

Indonesia’s worst rioting in three decades took an alarming turn with the death of more than 250 people trapped in shopping malls set ablaze by looters on Thursday night.

In the most serious case of violence, residents and Red Cross officials pulled out the charred remains of 170 people from the Yogya department store, part of the Sentral Klender Plaza in East Jakarta, which was set alight by rioters as fellow looters rampaged through the five-storey building.

Military sources said that the figure “could rise to more than 200” as rescue workers were still looking for more bodies in the building.

“We have recovered many bodies from the first and second floors but have yet to go higher because of fumes,” said Lieutenant C. Rusly, in-charge of military operations in the East Jakarta district of Klender.

“This operation could last two days. We expect the death toll to rise even further.”

Rescue workers said most of the dead were rioters who were looting the stores.

Fruit seller Ahmad Rivai, 26, said the mayhem began at 11 pm on Thursday when about 20 rioters, many of them between 15 and 20 years old, began throwing rocks at the building.

He said that after breaking in, they were joined by 200 others from a crowd of 5,000 watching the riot in the Kebun Baru slum area.

“There was another group waiting outside to torch the building,” he said. “They came armed with petrol and kerosene.”

The Yogya mall was one of several set alight on Thursday night in a continuing orgy of violence and anarchy to hit Jakarta.

More than 50 bodies were found in the burnt remains of the Ramayana departmental store in Tanjung Priok in North Jakarta.

AFP reported yesterday that a fire set by looters in the industrial district of Tangerang in West Jakarta claimed at least 20 lives in the Ramayana Plaza.

Five more people were killed in widespread rioting in southern Jakarta on Thursday night, the official Antara news agency reported. Other officials said five people were burnt to death in a department store fire in Central Jakarta.

Elsewhere, fires destroyed banks, shops, and petrol stations were set alight by looters. Millenium Hotel, owned by Singapore company CDL Hotels International, was also hit after rioters destroyed its lobby.

According to officials here, 1,118 buildings in Jakarta have been destroyed in the riots that began after six protesters were shot to death by police on Tuesday.

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