Sat, 22 Mar 2003

Police declare state of high alert nationwide

Damar Harsanto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A day after the U.S. mobilized its military against Iraq, Indonesian police declared on Friday a state of high alert across the nation in case of a possible threat to the country's security.

"We (police) are on high alert to anticipate possible threats against national security by people who would use the general tension following the eruption of the war in Iraq (for their own aims)," National Police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar told reporters at National Police Headquarters.

Da'i revealed he had deployed officers in full force across the country to ensure domestic security.

There are more than 250,000 police personnel nationwide.

"We don't want people to become overly cautious; we're just willing to prevent unscrupulous people from taking advantage of the situation," said Da'i.

He warned people not to carry any weapons when rallying in the streets, as it could lead to unintended violence.

Da'i regretted Thursday's incident in Semarang, Central Java, when six students were arrested by police, as they were found carrying gasoline at their rally with an intention to burn a paper effigy of Bush inside the provincial council building compound.

"People are allowed to express their sympathy and concern over the war. But, please, don't carry dangerous stuffs," he said.

According to Da'i, police intelligence had not received any major threats to security thus far, including any planned sweeps of foreigners by radical groups.

Earlier on Thursday, Jakarta Police chief Insp. Gen. Makbul Padmanagara declared a state of high alert in the capital, and said City Police had deployed its full force of more than 20,000 officers to maintain security.

Jakarta saw antiwar demonstrations on Thursday and Friday, but all were controlled rallies.

The wave of protests will reportedly peak on Sunday with a mass protest.

Meanwhile, City Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Prasetyo said they had deployed a special police team authorized to use live ammunition in case the situation in Jakarta deteriorated into mass rioting.

"The special police team will only take repressive measures if the people turn violent, and if all persuasive efforts fail to contain them," Prasetyo asserted.

In normal situations, Prasetyo said, in which protesters staged their rallies peacefully, officers would only use their police-issue batons.

During the period of high alert, no police officer would be allowed to take any leave of absence, he added.

In addition to the mounting antiwar protests, two employees of American firm General Electric (GE) at Tower II of the Bank Rakyat Indonesia building on Jl. Jend. Sudirman, South Jakarta, received bomb threats at 11:05 a.m. and 12:45 a.m., respectively, via phone from an anonymous caller.

Elly and Dody Simanjuntak, who received the calls, said the man, who claimed to be from Islamic group MUI Islamiyah, which "hates American companies", had planted a bomb somewhere in the building.

All tenants were then asked to exit the building.

At 1:15 p.m., the five-member police bomb squad from Kelapa Dua, Depok, arrived on the scene and combed the building for over an hour, and having found nothing, declared the building clean.