Sun, 28 May 2000

Calm returns to capital despite minor demonstration

JAKARTA (JP): Calm returned to Jakarta on Saturday, although some 200 student protesters, grouped under the City Network (Jarkot), made another effort to march to former president Soeharto's residence on Jl. Cendana, Central Jakarta, in the afternoon.

The Saturday afternoon protest was held just one day after students, in collaboration with youths and residents, vandalized and set ablaze military vehicles on Jl. Diponegoro and Jl. Salemba Raya in Central Jakarta, some two kilometers from the former strongman's residence.

Both streets were clean after city sanitation workers swept up the debris of the violence on Friday night.

Cars and motorcycles were on the streets in the Salemba area as usual, while nearby stores, including at the Megaria business complex, began to open.

Students were seen gathering at noon at Persada Indonesia University (YAI) and the Indonesian Christian University (UKI) on Jl. Diponegoro.

At 2.45 p.m, four students stood in the middle of Jl. Diponegoro, precisely in front of the gate of UKI's School of Social and Political Sciences, with two large cardboard boxes. Unfurling a poster which read: "Donations for victims of the military's violence", they requested money from passersby and motorists.

About one and a half hours later, the students gathered at the Megaria area and marched to Jl. Cendana.

The theme of their protest remained the same: they continued to condemn the government's sluggish investigation into former president Soeharto's alleged corruption during his 32-year reign. "Try Soeharto!", they repeatedly chanted.

As they arrived at the Jl. Teuku Cik Ditiro intersection, the protesters did not continue to Jl. Cendana, but immediately turned right to Ismail Marzuki Park (TIM) on Jl. Cikini Raya.

"We only want to tell people that security officers violently attacked students during our earlier protests. We'll continue to fight until Soeharto is brought to court," said one of the protesters, Benny.

At about 6 p.m, after airing their protest in front of TIM, the students marched back to the Megaria area and dispersed peacefully.

Separately, Jakarta Military Commander Maj. Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu condemned on Saturday the students' brutality during Friday's protest.

"We've seen law and human rights violations by the students in the past two days. Staging rallies is permitted as long as they don't bring about losses and frighten people," he said after visiting military police officer Pvt. Laode at the Gatot Soebroto Army Hospital here.

Laode suffered serious injuries to his head after he was attacked by students in front of the Foundation of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI) office on Jl. Diponegoro on Thursday night.

Meanwhile, Jakarta Police spokesman Lt. Col. Zainuri Lubis said on Saturday that his office was capable of handling the chaotic situation on Jl. Salemba Raya on Friday, as his office had prepared personnel on alert.

"We have alerted 2,700 personnel of the National Police's Mobile Brigade (Brimob) and from the riot police unit here at police headquarters to anticipate a worse situation," Zainuri said, while pointing out that the police's absence at the scene on Friday was aimed at preventing the tense police-student relationship from developing into a larger clash.

He said the police would prioritize persuasive and preventive approaches and continue with efforts to prevent the unrest from spreading to neighboring areas, such as Jatinegara in East Jakarta, and Senen and Cempaka Putih, both in Central Jakarta.

"We're ready to handle such a chaotic situation and will do our best to restore security in the capital," he said.

Zainuri added that city police headquarters would continuously coordinate with the National Police in handling such a situation.

He called on the students and the public to help maintain security and order while staging protests which involved the mobilization of large crowds.

"We'll allow them to stage protests as long as they are held in an orderly manner and will not lead to anarchy.

"They also have to prevent any casualties."

Zainuri said the police would not be equipped with firearms while dealing with protesters.

"Besides using water cannon, we will equip our personnel only with tear gas canisters, batons and body shields," he said.

Zainuri said six military vehicles and a motorcycle were set on fire by angry students and crowds during Friday's unrest.

"However, none of the students or members of the crowd were arrested by the police," he said. (06/asa)