Thu, 26 Oct 2000

Police detain five protesters during anti-Soeharto rally

JAKARTA (JP): City police detained at least five people during an anti-Soeharto rally which ended in a violent clash between hundreds of protesters and the some 200 police officers near the University of Indonesia in Salemba, Central Jakarta on Tuesday afternoon.

Contacted on Wednesday, police spokesman Supt. Muhammad Nur Usman said the five, including three university students, were still under police detention, pending further investigation on the rally and clash.

"The five had disturbed public peace and some of the protesters were found asking money from passersby on the street (Jl. Salemba Raya) to fund their rallies," Nur told The Jakarta Post.

The clash erupted after police, initially observing from a distance, rushed to the site when the protesters blocked the busy street in front of the university with a big truck loaded with heavy sound system equipment.

The protesters, mostly students grouped under Forkot (City Forum) and Dewan Mahasiswa Jabotabek (Greater Jakarta Students Council) or DMJ, started arriving at the site since 1 p.m.

According to officer Nur, the protesters then held speeches condemning former president Soeharto and demanding the government hold a "real" trial against him.

Nur added the group had initially planned to set up an open stage in the middle of the street to express their demands.

He said the police learned that the protesters' actions had caused a heavy traffic jam reaching Jl. Senen Raya, which is more than two kilometers north.

"The protesters occupied almost two-thirds of the street," the spokesman explained.

Moreover, he said, the police received complaints from motorists about the disturbance caused by the anti-Soeharto protesters.

According to Nur, police personnel were then ordered to disperse the protesters at about 3:30 p.m. but the demonstrators pelted the officers with stones.

In retaliation, the police fired tear gas canisters toward the protesters, forcing some of them to take refuge at nearby buildings such as the Indonesian Christian University (UKI), Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) office and St. Carolus Hospital.

According to Antara, a reporter from RCTI television station was beaten by police when covering the fierce clash.

The truck used by the protesters to block the street was later seized and taken to the Jakarta Police Headquarters as evidence.

"We have to net them (unruly protesters). We have to start taking stern measures against protesters who disturb public order," Nur explained.

Violent attack

LBH executives reported on Wednesday that some of their office's glass windows and a glass door were shattered by stones and blank bullets. They also claimed that the windscreens of two cars belonging to its staff were shattered by stones.

LBH executives accused the police of having committed the violent attack, Antara stated.

Thus, they have asked the Jakarta Police to take responsibility in compensating for damages to the LBH office and the properties of its staff and dismissing police officers who had committed the violent actions.

Nur denied the allegations saying the police officers deployed at the scene of Tuesday's rally carried no firearms at all, only tear gas canisters.

But he promised to examine the damages at the LBH office compound.

"Hopefully, we can obtain some useful information from the five detainees.

But it's impossible that our officers had attacked the office as we had no reason to do so," Nur said, adding that his office would take stiff measures if the LBH's allegations are proved true. (dja)