Popular Marines bring calm to streets


Wiranto’s decision to deploy the Marines, who have traditionally been more popular with the people, has a calming effect on student protesters.

In a bid to deflect mounting public anger against the military, General Wiranto yesterday ordered the Marines to take up front-line positions alongside student protesters who have clashed with police and other elite troops over the last three days.

Marines interpreted their deployment to mean protecting the students and other protesters from being hurt by their “brutal” counterparts.

They even formed protective phalanxes as students marched to the parliament complex, where more Marines stood guard.

Their presence had a calming effect.

At the students’ headquarters in Atmajaya University in central Jakarta, the vengeful mood of the previous night was almost gone.

Barely hours before, students, angered by the killing of two of their fellows in vicious street battles with soldiers from the Strategic Reserves (Kostrad) and riot police, were still shouting epithets against Gen Wiranto.

But by noon yesterday, most were mingling easily with the Marines, sharing cigarettes and jokes, some female students clearly in awe of the rugged men with their distinctive pink berets.

Dispelling rumours of a split between hardline and pro-reform military units, a senior Abri official said the deployment of the Marines was a conscious decision taken by the military chief to “watch over” the students.

Marines have always been perceived as the saviours of the people, having come out on their side in riots here in the 70s and 80s.

When Kostrad troops tried to clear students out of the Parliament complex after their sit-in hastened former President Suharto’s downfall in May, it was the Marines who rescued them from a brutal beating, students said at the time.

Kostrad’s unpopularity was apparent on Friday when truckloads of soldiers were jeered by onlookers, many of whom hurled rocks and bamboo poles at them.

The Marines following behind were cheered and welcomed with high fives.

They totted M-16 rifles yesterday. But when asked what his orders were, a corporal pulled out his magazine clip and showed The Sunday Times the blank rounds in it.

“No shooting,” he said.

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