Protesters’ car rams troops


INDONESIAN troops yesterday fired shots into the air after several soldiers were hit by a car leading a protest march by thousands of students trying to go to Parliament House, where the country’s top legislative body was holding a special session on political reforms.

Angry soldiers retaliated by beating up the students in the car, witnesses said.

Truckloads of more than 1,000 Marines and riot policemen were rushed to the area, near a roundabout where the Mandarin and Grand Hyatt hotels are located, to prevent the situation from deteriorating.

More than 10,000 students from several universities staged a sit-in along a 2-km stretch of Jalan Imam Bonjol in the heart of the capital, singing songs like Death of a Martyr.

Student leaders said they planned to stay the night and expected to be joined by up to one million more students to press their right to march to Parliament. But many began leaving later.

Near the complex itself, another 200 students held out near the state TV station, stalled by troops who closed off all roads leading to Parliament.

Students have been protesting against the special session of the People’s Consultative Assembly as more likely to obstruct democracy, decrying its members as Suharto-era relics and demanding that Abri withdraw from politics.

Yesterday’s incident, which occurred at about 4.30 pm, ended a brief lull of easing tensions when police agreed to disarm the pro-government vigilante groups which clashed with protesting students the day before and pulled them out of the Parliament area.

Lieutenant-Colonel Iman H. from the city police told The Straits Times that six soldiers, including the local military district captain, were injured when a red Volkswagon carrying the flag of the elite University of Indonesia rammed into a barrier manned by 200 elite Kostrad soldiers.

One of the passengers, he said, had shouted over a loudhailer, “let’s crash into the soldiers”. “But we thought they were joking so we stayed put,” he said.

After hitting the soldiers, the car veered out of control and landed on a road divider. The passengers ran away, he said. He declined to say what state the injured soldiers were in, but several soldiers were overheard saying that they were in critical condition.

Student leader Yulianto disputed the police version. The students drove the car into the human barrier because soldiers were hitting it with their batons, he said. The passengers were beaten up and had to be sent to hospital, he added.

Other witnesses said that when more troops arrived, they ploughed into the protesters and beat them back with batons to clear a 200-m buffer zone.

Three Indonesian journalists covering the confrontation were also beaten up, with a photographer from the Antara national news agency suffering head injuries, said other reporters, who began staging their own protests. They held placards decrying the “Abri anarchy”.

One female student was beaten so badly her head was split open. Another was seen being carried unconscious into an ambulance.

As tension mounted, some students began taunting some riot policemen.

A student got hysterical and yelled: “There is no truth in this country. Those who speak the truth are kidnapped or killed.”

Others hugged and shook hands with the policemen as an act of peace.

A one-star army general on the scene, told The Straits Times he did not expect the situation to deteriorate further, but that more troops would be brought in as a precautionary measure.

“If we don’t bring in troops, we will be criticised. If we do, we are also criticised,” he said.

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