Tue, 22 Aug 2000

Medan paralyzed by massive public transport strike

MEDAN, North Sumatra (JP): Some 10,000 public transportation drivers paralyzed the North Sumatra capital on Monday with a city-wide strike.

The strikers, who were demanding cheaper spare parts, subsidized fuel and an end to illegal fees, brought business and social activities to a virtual standstill.

The strike was initiated by the Drivers and Owners of Public Transportation organization (Kesper) here.

It is expected to last until Wednesday.

The town, which woke up to bomb blasts outside a church on Sunday, was tense. Police questioned on Monday five witnesses in connection with the blast, but have not made any arrest so far.

The striking drivers demanded the police take stern measures against gangs of youths and officials who they allege collect illegal fees from them in 77 places across the city.

"At every point (on a journey) we have to pay extra money, with each driver having to pay levies of between Rp 5,000 and Rp 10,000 per day," Kesper chairman Manahan Hutagalung said at a meeting between 20 driver representatives and Medan Police chief Sr. Supt. Hasyim Irianto at the Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) office.

Illegal levies in the city are rampant, with those collecting them, ranging from members of official organizations to thugs, able to extort money from drivers with no one stopping them, he said.

The strikers also demanded the police provide security guarantees against crimes, such as robbery and assault, committed by thugs along their routes.

"We also want the authorities to lower the prices of spare parts and ensure that fuel prices are subsidized by the state," Manahan added.

The meeting, however, failed to reach an agreement.

"We plead with Kesper to resume operations as usual. As for handling of the hoodlums, our personnel have been stationed in areas prone to crimes across the city for four days," Hasyim said, warning that the strike may lead to chaos.

North Sumatra Governor T. Rizal Nurdin made an overnight call on the drivers not to strike but it went unheeded.

Thousands of people, including employees and students, were stranded as a result of the strike.

Crowds were seen waiting in vain for buses near housing complexes in Marsubung, Hervetia and Mandala Medan.

It is uncertain whether school activities will continue for the next few days.

The city's yellow or red minivans were notably absent from the streets, as were buses and taxis. The only means of transport were pedicabs and motorcycle taxis.

Police and military trucks along with a fleet of 40 state-run Damri buses were used to transport stranded commuters.

"Some of our buses were intercepted by a group of people around 5 a.m. when they were about to leave the station but now the police are escorting them," Damri chief Bambang Sugiharto said.

Other bus companies have been asked to help carry commuters with a police escort, Supt. Surya Dislan of the city police road traffic unit said.

Meanwhile, at least 10 people were injured when a brawl between youths from Jl. Aksara and Jl. Pukat broke out early Monday morning.

Several kiosks were set alight and dozens of houses on the two streets were vandalized by mobs, a local reporter said.

The victims were taken to Dr. Pirngadi General Hospital. Police later successfully dispersed the rival gangs.

Tension ran high throughout the day in the city with most residents preferring to stay at home. (39/edt)