Police declare high alert status to face mass rally
JAKARTA (JP): Jakarta Police chief Maj. Gen. Nurfaizi said on Friday the capital would be on high alert from Saturday through until the end of April.
"Waspada I (high alert) will be declared on Saturday, considering that mass protests are reportedly scheduled from Saturday onward. The alert will remain until the end of April," Nurfaizi said while addressing a meeting of about 4,000 police officers at city police headquarters on Friday morning.
The 4,000 officers will be posted throughout the city to secure the capital.
"I call on all officers, particularly those of the patrol units and the elite Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) force to deal with protesters in a sympathetic manner. Try to engage the protesters in a persuasive dialog."
Nurfaizi also ordered all his personnel at the Jakarta Police to manage any protesters without using antiriot equipment.
"Do not use your helmets, your shields, your batons or your guns. That is the only way we can show these protesters that we are not there to fight them, but to secure the capital," he said.
National Police chief Lt. Gen. Rusdihardjo said the high alert was essential to make sure that no political or other elements interfered with the peoples' daily activities.
"I want city residents to stay calm and safe. We'll make sure of that beginning tomorrow (Saturday)," Rusdihardjo said after addressing a ceremony marking the establishment of the National Narcotics and Drugs Coordination Agency at the National Police College in South Jakarta later in the afternoon.
Although the government has canceled its plan to raise fuel prices, student and labor organizations insisted on Friday they would continue with their plan to organize street protests on Saturday.
"There is no change to our plan to stage a protest on Saturday. We demand the government revoke the policy, not just postpone it," said Dominggus Octavianus, head of the education division of the National Front for Indonesian Labor Struggle (FNPBI).
He said the protesters would add another issue to the planned protest on Saturday.
"We'll also demand the government increase the regional minimum wage (UMR) from the planned 25 percent as of April 1 to 100 percent," Dominggus told The Jakarta Post by phone.
He said workers could not afford proper daily expenses if the government only raised minimum wages by 25 percent.
"With a 25 percent increase, the workers can only afford to meet 54 percent of their minimum needs," he said.
Coordinating Minister for Economy, Finance and Industry Kwik Kian Gie said on Thursday the government would go ahead with its plan to raise fuel prices.
However, the government's stance changed on Friday as President Abdurrahman Wahid announced the plan's delay. The President said the government was unprepared to launch the fuel subsidy mechanism for poor families.
FNPBI, along with six other student and labor organizations grouped under the People's Committee for Justice, held a media conference on Thursday, disclosing a plan to conduct a massive protest, involving some 10,000 protesters on Saturday.
A different group of student protesters, City Forum (Forkot), had yet to confirm its stance over Saturday's protest.
"We're still discussing Saturday's planned protest," said Mixil of Forkot.
The group earlier canceled its plan to stage a protest on Friday after hundreds of its members were involved in a clash with security personnel on Thursday, after staging a protest near former president Soeharto's residence in Menteng, Central Jakarta.
Achmad Nizar, another Forkot activist, said on Friday the group had planned to stage a protest against fuel price rises on Saturday, but the government's latest decision had made them reconsider the plan.
Meanwhile, the Democratic People's Party (PRD) might be absent from Saturday's protests.
"We don't yet have a plan to join the protest," party chairman Budiman Sudjatmiko said.
Dominggus lashed out at the government for its hasty decision to cancel the fuel price hike, saying it was part of an effort to stifle the people's resistance to it.
"The government should not make a decision only by observing the people's psychological state, but it should also take into account the people's economic abilities," he said.
The government's decision, however, won the support of Budiman.
"The government is apparently aware that people are not ready to accept the hike now," he told the Post by phone.
Budiman said the hike would be accepted if economic conditions improved. (asa)