Wed, 09 Mar 2005

Fuel protests mark Women's Day

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Makassar/Cirebon

While women in other parts of the world launched rallies to demand equal rights in commemorating International Women's Day on Tuesday, women here launched protests nationwide against the recent fuel price hike.

In Makassar, South Sulawesi, about 100 women gathered to protest the price increase in front of the local council's compound.

The protesters, most of whom were housewives and mature-aged women, said the policy affected them the most as they were responsible for managing household spending.

They said the government needed to be more serious in its battle against corruption instead of cutting the fuel subsidy.

The government earlier this month raised fuel prices by an average of 29 percent, as oil prices on the international market soared to record levels. The President said the country's economy was on the verge of collapse under the weight of the fuel subsidy.

Although the government has promised to provide compensation for poor families in the form of free education, health services, cheaper rice, and subsidized public transportation fares, many remain opposed to the unpopular policy. Some lawmakers have even planned to launch an investigation into the policy.

In Semarang, Central Java, dozens of women activists grouped in a non-governmental organization called the Women and Children's Care Network also staged an anti-fuel hike rally.

Carrying various kitchen tools, the women accused President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Yusuf Kalla of lacking sensitivity toward Indonesian women who would bear the brunt of the fuel price hike.

"The government has adopted capitalism, which of course, affects the people's welfare. Such a policy will only restrict women's access to basic needs, such as health, education, clothing and housing," said Eva, one of the protesters.

"I wonder why the government has failed to eradicate corruption among officials working with Pertamina," she said, referring to state oil and gas company PT Pertamina.

Meanwhile, students nationwide continued to rally against the fuel hike policy. In Indramayu regency, West Java, protesters blockaded the main gates of Pertamina's marketing unit in Balongan. The students also burned tires.

Meanwhile, academics from two noted universities in Makassar warned people of efforts by the government to blow up the ongoing border dispute between Malaysia and Indonesia in a bid to divert the people's attention away from the unpopular fuel hike policy issue.

Arief Wicaksono, a lecturer from Hasanudin University, also feared that the military might use the border dispute issue to demand a higher defense budget by using part of the money saved from cutting the fuel subsidy.

"I guess it is not a coincidence if the Ambalat issue (the border dispute case) has suddenly surfaced amid various protests against the government's policy on fuel prices," Arief said as quoted by Antara.