Fri, 29 Sep 2000

City set for violent protests over fuel hike

JAKARTA (JP): City authorities say they are fully prepared for violent protests, strikes and shortages when fuel prices are raised on Sunday.

The authorities said on Thursday 200 buses were on standby should bus drivers in the capital go on strike to protest the 12 percent fuel price hike.

The police will deploy thousands of personnel to assure the smooth distribution of gas, kerosene, and basic goods. Officers will guard gas stations, markets, business centers and offices.

City Hall hosted a meeting attended by representatives from the Jakarta administration, police, military, market operator PD Pasar Jaya and Land Transportation Control Agency (DLLAJ).

Mostly middle-ranking representatives were present, unusually for an important meeting.

The city administration, for instance, was represented by city secretary Fauzi Bowo, while the Jakarta Police by operation control command deputy chief Supt. Yuwanto.

"In today's meeting, we checked each institution's final preparations ahead of the Oct. 1 fuel hike. We all know that fuel hikes are a sensitive issue that can lead to social unrest," Fauzi said.

Fauzi said the 200 extra buses would be borrowed from several private bus companies, such as Mayasari, Damri and Steady Safe, in anticipation of possible strikes by workers with the city- owned bus company, PPD.

"We have heard about the strike plan and even though we are not sure about it, we choose to be prepared," he said.

Supt. Yuwanto said that his boss, Jakarta Police chief Gen. Nurfaizi, had ordered all police chiefs in the capital to enhance security in their areas and work together with security guards at business centers to anticipate unrest.

"Gen. Nurfaizi ordered us on Monday to keep an eye out for groups that could use the moment to create instability in the capital," Yuwanto said.

The police, however, are unable to identify the groups, he added.

Increasing fuel prices is a tough political decision for the government as in the past it has often led to protests and unrest. The last time the government increased fuel prices was in May 1998. Protests and bloody riots in Jakarta followed, contributing to the downfall of then president Soeharto two weeks later.

Under the plan, the price of premium gasoline will increase to Rp 1,150 from Rp 1,000 per liter, automotive diesel oil to Rp 600 from Rp 550, kerosene to Rp 350 from Rp 280, and bunker oil to Rp 400 from Rp 350.

Deputy governor of administrative affairs Abdul Kahfi said on Wednesday that the capital would be hit by strikes and protests ahead of the hike.

The strikes, he said, may well take place at bus terminals, while protesters could flock to the State Palace, the House of Representatives building and City Hall.

Last week, state-owned oil company Pertamina promised that Jakarta would experience no difficulties, such as panic buying, ahead of the rises, saying the firm had beefed up its gasoline stocks.

"For Jakarta, we have prepared a total of 7,600 kiloliters of gasoline," Pertamina spokesman Ramli Djaffar said, adding the amount included premium, diesel oil, kerosene and bunker fuel.

The company, he said, was prepared for dropping fuel directly to areas reporting shortages but asked local government to watch the distribution.

Officer Yuwanto said: "To secure the distribution of gas and essential goods, Jakarta Police will conduct a joint operation with neighboring West Java and East Java Police to secure the northern coastal area of Java to ensure smooth distribution."

PD Pasar Jaya head Syahrir Tanjung said the public had no reason to worry about the supply of basic needs and staple foodstuffs as there were adequate stocks so far.

"The public have nothing to worry about because we have enough stocks and so far the prices of basic goods are still stable," Syahrir said.

Media reports have said the price of several items, such as noodles, eggs, and milk formula has started to increase over the past few days.

People have also reported that goods have started disappearing from the markets.

"Some distributors began hoarding items, waiting for new prices in line with the fuel hike," said a shop manager. (dja/bsr)