Sat, 11 Sep 1999

Anti-Australian protests hit major cities

JAKARTA (JP): The rising wave of nationalistic fever brought on by a fervor of anti-American and Australian sentiment continued on Friday as major Indonesian cities became witnesses to flag burning demonstrations.

Here in Jakarta at least 500 people, mainly members of the People's Sovereignty and National Unity Struggle (Rver) and the Ansor Youth Movement, burned the Australian and American flags at the Australian Embassy and on Jl. Sudirman on Friday afternoon.

The group first burned the flags on Jl. Jend. Sudirman in South Jakarta.

They then boarded two minivans and went to the Australian Embassy on Jl. Rasuna Said in South Jakarta.

Under the cautious eyes of hundreds of police officers, they laid the Australian and American flags on the busy asphalt road and put them in a cage which contained two chickens which then excreted on the flags.

"This should teach Australians not to burn our flag," the demonstrators screamed.

This is the third straight day demonstrators have descended on the Australian Embassy.

Like previous days, the protesters were disgruntled over Canberra's alleged intervention in Indonesia's domestic affairs over the East Timor issue, and also the burning of Indonesian flags by protesters in Australia.

When police tried to intervene on Friday, the protesters pushed them away.

"They burned our flag in Australia. We burn theirs here," a protester said.

One of the protesters leader, Zulkifli Tarigan, said that they were also unhappy with the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) over supposed irregularities in the Aug. 30 ballot.

"If UNAMET does not investigate and disclose the case, killings in East Timor will continue," said Tarigan, after meeting with the Australian Embassy's third secretary, Jo Leong.

Tarigan said the embassy official promised to convey the demands to the Australian government.


Meanwhile in Semarang, Central Java, a similar scene broke out as more than 100 university students staged a noisy protest in front of Australian Trade Representative office.

They challenged Australia to prove its threat of sending troops to East Timor.

The students, who identified themselves as the National Student Movement, also burned the flags of Australia and the United Nations in front of the trade representative office.

They also deplored the UN which they described as the mastermind behind all disasters in East Timor.

They decried the world body of failing to maintain neutrality during the ballot process.

The students warned Australia and other western countries not to interfere in Indonesia's internal affairs as East Timor was still part of Indonesia.

They also warned Australia not to behave like the champion of human rights since their own record was far from perfect in regard to the mistreatment of native Aborigines.

"If Australia tries to intervene or to invade East Timor, Australia will have to face the people," said Warseno, the leader of the protesters.

In Medan, North Sumatra, a dozen students also burned the Australian flag in front of the North Sumatra University on Jl. Dr. Mansur.

Student leader Rasum called Australia arrogant by sending its warships near Indonesian waters.

"Australia is too snobbish," he cried to the enthusiastic protesting students.

Separately, a senior official at the Ministry of Industry and Trade cautiously reacted against the boycott threat launched by the Australian Council for Trade Unions (ACTU).

The ministry's director general for foreign trade, Djoko Moeljono, said the government would consult next with the National Importers Association (Ginsi) and the Indonesian Exporters Association (GPEI) before making any decisions. Ginsi has urged the government to boycott Australian products.

Djoko said not all parties in Australia agree to the boycott as it would only disrupt current close trade relations between the two countries.

Citing an example, he said the Australian airlines, Qantas, had warned Australian airport workers that the boycott is against the law.

"We are still studying the ACTU's appeals," said Djoko, as quoted by Antara. (ylt/har/30/39/prb/ind/jun)