3,000 Jakarta students hold rallies

Demonstrators call for action against General Wiranto for not punishing killers of four colleagues last May.

MORE than 3,000 students yesterday marked the slaying of four colleagues last year by holding peaceful rallies here and demanding that action be taken against military chief Wiranto for not resolving the matter.

Demonstrations were held in several parts of the city, mainly outside the Parliament building and in the Trisakti University campus, where the fateful shootings took place last May.

At Trisakti, which saw the largest gathering, flags were flown at half-mast. The 12-storey university complex was also covered in black cloth as a sign of mourning, and several wreaths were laid in the parking lot.

The parents of the four victims earlier laid the cornerstones for a planned monument to the incident.

The shooting sparked days of riots in the capital that added to public pressure that finally forced the resignation of President Suharto on May 21 last year.

Student leaders made hard-hitting speeches about the lack of progress in punishing those responsible for killing their friends. Their target of grievance: the armed forces (Abri) and General Wiranto.

“Why is Wiranto keeping so quiet,” one student leader shouted over the microphone. “He knows who was behind the killings. He must be brought to trial.”

Another activist was not so moderate in his demands. He wanted the four-star general to be “burnt”.

“We will burn Gen Wiranto and Abri if need be so that justice will be done,” he said to cheers from the students, many wearing the university’s blue jackets. “The students will fight on.”

A few hundred students also gathered at the entrance to the Parliament building, while others tried to reach the Merdeka, or Independence, Square in the heart of the city.

Students who headed for Parliament created a massive traffic jam as police blocked off a section of the busy Jalan Gatot Subroto to prevent other students in convoys from joining them.

The students there demanded that the red and white national flag be flown at half-mast. Anti-Abri sentiments were also evident, with some banners calling on the military to “stop the bleeding” in the country.

Despite such actions, analysts believe these young Indonesians, who led the push to topple Mr Suharto last year, appeared to be a pale shadow of their former selves.

Many students appeared disinterested and left rallies early.

Poor organisation and a lack of funds meant that several student groups from universities could not live up to their pledge to take to the streets.

Also critical in hampering their efforts was Abri.

Sources said that the military was placed on high alert yesterday in anticipation that the protests could later turn ugly and lead to widespread rioting.

There was a visible security presence in the city, with riot troops and armoured personnel carriers deployed near the presidential palace and other strategic points.

An Abri source told The Straits Times that the demonstrations were “not a significant threat”, but the military was taking extra precautions to pre-empt provocateurs from stirring up problems.

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