Sun, 20 Feb 2000

Protest rally delays local and international flights

TANGERANG (JP): Traffic heading to and from the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport here was blocked for at least three hours on Saturday afternoon by some 300 angry protesters, causing delays of several international and domestic flights.

None of the protesters, believed to have been upset after being banned from running illegal businesses at the airport, were arrested by the police.

Tangerang Police chief Lt. Col. Pudji Hartanto Iskandar said four of them, identified as Udin, Basuki, Soleh, and Rubiah, were only questioned.

Airport records showed that the delayed international flights included those leaving for Hong Kong, Riyadh, Singapore, and Taipei.

The domestic ones included those with end-point destinations of Padang in West Sumatra, Pekanbaru in Riau, Pontianak in West Kalimantan and Semarang in Central Java.

Witnesses said that the protesters, mostly residents living near the vast airport complex, started to occupy the entrance gate outside the airport's premises at the toll road to Jakarta, from midday until 4 p.m.

They allowed no vehicles, including the Damri airport buses, to pass through, causing a traffic jam kilometers in length.

A couple, who witnessed the blockade, said that some of the vehicles, whose drivers decided to pass through, were pelted by stones.

But officer Pudji insisted that no such incident happened during the protesters' barricade.

He said the people finally dispersed after police threatened repressive action against them. reported that the protesters stopped the blockade and abruptly sprinted to different directions after witnessing the arrival of a troop of the police elite Mobile Brigade.

When asked about the protesters' demands, the officer refused to comment, saying that his duty was to keep the airport safe.

"You should contact the officials of Angkasa Pura II (the airport operator) as it was their internal affair," he said,

Head of the airport operator branch, Arifin Razak, was unable to be reached and no company officials were willing to give comments.

However, a well-informed police officer at the scene said it was an old dispute between the company and the local residents.

"The residents protested Angkasa Pura's recent raid against them and their business at the airport premises in which they were driven from the airport compound," the officer said under the condition of anonymity.

The residents, he said, usually flock the airport to work as unofficial parking attendants, car washers, and food sellers.

The airport authorities, he added, had to finally ban these people following complaints from many passengers.

It has been reported in the press on several occasions that the illegal workers often forced people to use and pay for their service.

After disbursing them the first time, Angkasa Pura allowed them back to their businesses and even distributed free T-shirts to them after the residents pledged to organize themselves.

Once, the firm also offered some amount of money and vocational training for the residents to start small-scale businesses instead of working in the airport.

"But it seemed that the residents prefer fast money instead of having their own businesses," he added.

When conditions returned again to a state of disorder, the company decided to expel all of them.

Passengers at the international airport had long complained about the presence of the people, as they often caused discomfort.

The airport is also noted for the crowd of unauthorized people who act as ticket agents and brokers for unlicensed taxis, often following the passengers, particularly women. (05/ind)