Thu, 20 Mar 2003

Antiwar protesters begin targeting U.S. interests

Damar Harsanto and Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

With a war in Iraq apparently drawing closer, anti-American protesters began to target United States' interests on Wednesday as the police here announced they were ready to protect foreigners and foreign assets in the capital.

Dozens of youths grouped in the Islamic Youth Movement (GPI) rallied in front of a McDonald's outlet on Jl. MH. Thamrin in Central Jakarta and stopped customers entering the restaurant in protest against the U.S. plan to invade Iraq.

No violence was reported as dozens of customers, including foreigners, watched the rally from inside the restaurant, which is open 24 hours a day.

The protest lasted 10 minutes, after which the youths continued their protest at the United Nations building just across the road from the restaurant, and later the U.S. Embassy on Jl. Medan Merdeka Selatan.

In front of the embassy, the youths burned tires in addition to making speeches deploring the planned invasion.

The same anti-war protest took place in the Central Sulawesi capital of Palu when hundreds of students barricaded a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet and scared away customers.

In a bid to anticipate a possible backlash following a U.S. attack on Iraq, Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Prasetyo confirmed that the police were on alert for further antiwar protests across the city.

"We have beefed up our strength to protect assets linked to the U.S. and its allies, including Britain, Portugal and Spain, due to heightened security concerns in the capital," Prasetyo said.

Prasetyo, however, declined to reveal how many police officers would be deployed to provide security in Jakarta.

He also said the police would intensify its patrols to monitor the city's security situation.

Separately, an advisor to National Police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar, Insp. Gen. Sudirman Ail, said the police had held a meeting with security officers from all embassies in the country to anticipate public protests against an attack on Iraq.

"As well as the U.S. and its allies, we will also provide protection for all other foreign interests here," he said during a meeting with religious leaders.

Sudirman said that police would be deployed primarily in public places such as shopping centers and office buildings.

"We suggest that foreigners should stay at home in the event of a wave of antiwar protests," he said.

Sudirman also disclosed that the police had formulated a contingency plan should the security situation worsen. He did not elaborate, however.

Earlier, National Police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar revealed that 250,000 police personnel would be ready to protect the interests of the U.S. and its allies here.

He said the Indonesian Military (TNI) was also on standby to back up the police.

So far, there had been no threat to foreigners or their interests here, Da'i said.

On Wednesday afternoon, some soldiers were seen helping police and security guards search the bags of visitors to a McDonald's outlet.