Wed, 23 Aug 2000

Prices rise as drivers' strike continues

MEDAN, North Sumatra (JP): The public transport drivers' strike here continued for a second consecutive day on Tuesday, creating new headaches for residents in the form of soaring prices for essential commodities.

Vendors increased the prices of many staple foodstuffs, saying that they had to cover extra transportation expenses.

Red chilies were being sold for Rp 10,000 from the previous Rp 7,000 per kilogram. Onions cost Rp 8,000 per kilogram, compared to the previous price of Rp 4,500, while the average price of vegetables rose by some Rp 3,000 over the usual price.

"It's crazy but we have no choice," a vendor said.

Only a few public transport minivans were seen on the streets, leaving large crowds of commuters stranded awaiting transport.

Medan Regional Police chief Sr. Supt. Hasyim Irianto said that services were still being provided by some 40 buses belonging to the state transport firm Damri and scores of military/police and government vehicles.

Despite the strike, business and school activities gradually resumed on Tuesday but some offices and shops only opened for half a day.

"We hope the strike will end as my feet are killing me. We have to walk quite far to reach school. It's too expensive to take a pedicab," a student said.

An overnight meeting was attended by North Sumatra Governor T. Rizal Nurdin and the Big Family of Public Transportation Drivers and Owners (Kesper) in Medan, which initiated the strike. During the talks, the group demanded security guarantees and the deployment of police sharpshooters.

The administration agreed to crackdown on hoodlums and provide security so as to eradicate the alleged extortion of illegal levies by members of certain unnamed youth organizations.

"I understand the drivers' grievances but let's not leave the people suffering from the strike. Don't turn Medan into a city of chaos," the governor said.

Hasyim, who also attended the meeting, said that security conditions remained under control and that the deployment of sharpshooters was unnecessary.

Local government officials were seen distributing flyers urging the drivers to end the strike at the Amplas, Pinangbaris and Sambu bus terminals, a local reporter said.

Rizal, Bukit Barisan Military Command Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Asril H. Tanjung and Medan's Public Transportation Owners' Association (Organda) chief O.K. Khaidir renewed calls for the drivers to end their strike.

Some 10,000 drivers in the city, home to around 2.3 million people, began their strike on Monday and are expected to remain on strike until Wednesday.

In another development, an overnight brawl between youths on Jl. Aksara and Jl. Pukat on Tuesday left 16 people injured, including a daughter of provincial legislator Rajab Napolis Tanjung.

"My 24-year-old daughter Neneng was shot in the neck by an air rifle when she opened the door," Rajab told the media on Tuesday. (39/edt)