Students return to assembly in protest

INDONESIA IN TRANSITION

More than 2,000 of them gather outside the Parliament to demand a special session to speed up reforms, as protests gain momentum.

MORE than 2,000 student protesters gathered outside the Indonesian Parliament here yesterday demanding a special session to push forward political reforms in the country.

Three weeks after their repeated demonstrations forced former President Suharto’s downfall, students in the capital again repeated their calls for change, hoping to influence the agenda of the new Habibie government.

Students from 34 universities and tertiary institutes arrived at the Parliament in 20 buses at midday, causing a traffic jam along the busy Jalan Gatot Subroto.

The authorities did not allow all of them into the compound.

But they gave in eventually and 15 student representatives were allowed in to meet the armed forces (Abri) faction leader Lt-General Hari Sabarno and Golkar representative Abdul Gaffur.

Sources said that the students presented a signed petition which called for:

* A special People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) session within the next 30 days and fresh elections thereafter. This session should, among other things, reject current state policy guidelines which were implemented by the Suharto administration.

* Assurances that the government would not raise prices of basic food items, which have skyrocketed with the worsening economic crisis.

According to a source, who was at the hour-long meeting between the students and MPR leaders, both sides agreed to “give the new government some breathing space” before calling for any special session.

As the meeting took place, thousands of other students in the green, red, blue, yellow and orange colours of their respective universities, waved banners and chanted “Merdeka” (freedom) as they waited outside the barricaded Parliament grounds – the scene of the largest student protest in the country just weeks ago.

About 100 Abri personnel armed with riot gear and automatic rifles were deployed at the scene but the protest passed without any violence.

Senior Abri sources disclosed that the military was now on “alert one” status in the capital and other parts of the country as they anticipated another wave of student protests.

This was complicated by labour demonstrations and anger directed at the Habibie administration from others in society.

“There is always a fear that the situation could just get out of hand if the students are joined by others to register their demands,” said a senior intelligence officer.

That is exactly what happened in the Central Java town of Tegal on Tuesday when hundreds of civilians joined thousands of students marching down to the town hall complex to demand the mayor’s resignation for alleged corruption.

Riots broke out when they were barred from entering the complex and the mob began to pelt shops around the central square with stones and other missiles.

They smashed dozens of shops and looted some of them.

Up to 75 shops, five banks and three supermarkets were damaged but no one was injured.

Police and soldiers fired warning shots to break up the mob.

THE DEMAND: Reform

THREE weeks after their repeated demonstrations forced former President Suharto’s downfall, students from 34 universities and tertiary institutes arrived at Parliament in 20 buses at midday to repeat their calls for change, hoping to influence the agenda of the new government headed by Dr B.J. Habibie.

According to sources, the students have signed a petition which called for:

* A special People’s Consultative Assembly session in the next 30 days which will reject current state policy guidelines implemented by the Suharto administration, and fresh elections thereafter.

* Assurances that the government would not raise prices of basic food items which have skyrocketed with the worsening economic crisis.

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