Spectre of mass unrest hovers over Indonesia


INDONESIA hovered on the brink of mass unrest yesterday as mobs rampaged in the northern and eastern parts of the capital, looting and torching buildings and fighting with out-numbered troops while disturbances were reported in many cites across the country.

Capping a week of bloody anti-government protests here that have already left at least 11 dead and scores critically wounded, thousands of poor villagers yesterday broke into shops, malls and banks in the largely-Chinese dominated areas in a near-reprise of the riots which rocked Jakarta in May.

As columns of black smoke spewed into the sky from several blazing buildings near his palace, President B.J. Habibie emerged from an emergency Cabinet meeting to authorise beleaguered military chief Wiranto to “immediately take firm action in line with the prevailing laws and regulations”.

“Now, it can be seen that there are movements and actions by several groups in the society which clearly attempt to oppose the law and the Constitution by mobilising masses to enforce their wishes,” he said, reading from a statement on TV.

“These movements and actions can now be categorised as subversive movements and actions that are endangering the unity and cohesion, and the fundamentals of the life of the nation and the state.”

Signs of an imminent crackdown on the increasingly strident opposition movement were already obvious when police summoned two vocal critics for questioning in the morning.

Friends of Mr Hariadi Dharmawan, head of the University of Indonesia Alumni Association, and retired major-general Theo Syafei, a new member of Ms Megawati Soekarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party, said they were being interrogated about plans that the police had found which allegedly showed they were plotting to foment unrest over the last two days.

A third man, Mr Roch Basuki of the National Reform Movement, was arrested on Friday near the Parliament complex for allegedly trying to incite violence, legal aid workers said.

The detentions led to speculation that there could be further arrests in the days ahead. Student protesters, meanwhile, finally reached their goal of marching to Parliament. Watched over by Marines, they staged a noisy sit-in on the highway outside its barred entrance.

“This is revenge for their not letting us come here during the last five days,” student activist Lisa said.

Posted in Indonesia