Sun, 19 Jan 2003

Rally turns riot near Mega's residence

Zakki Hakim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Protests against utility price hikes continued on Saturday with a new twist, despite a government decision to review the hikes and to postpone an increase in telephone rates.

Hundreds of students clashed with police just a few hundred meters away from the residence of President Megawati Soekarnoputri on Saturday as the protesters moved their demonstrations from the Merdeka Palace to the president's residence.

At least one student was injured in the scuffles that ensued which took place after the protesters tried to break through the police's human barricade to reach Megawati's residence in Menteng, Central Jakarta.

"This house is confiscated," said a large sign the students wanted to post in front of Megawati's residence on Jl. Teuku Umar.

According to the students, the sign symbolized the people's anger and disappointment over Megawati's unjust policies -- raising utility price hikes while setting free tycoons unwilling to pay back state money and corrupt officials in her administration.

The students wanted to place the sign at the President's gate but police prevented them from reaching the house.

"We forbid you (from posting the sign at the President's house) as it is against the law," said Central Jakarta police chief Commr. Edmon Ilyas, but he failed to explain exactly which law it would violate, further drawing the ire of the protesters.

"For the sake of 'the law' police forbabe us from getting close to our own President's house. Which law? Is it the same law that allows wicked tycoons and corrupt officials to run free? This is injustice!" yelled Rico Marbun, chairman of University of Indonesia's Students Executive Council (BEM UI), in front of hundreds of students.

The protesters dispersed after burning a tire to vent out their rage.

The government raised fuel prices by up to 22 percent on Jan. 2 in an attempt to reduce costly fuel subsidies and contain its budget deficit as demanded by foreign lenders. Electricity charges also went up by a further 6 percent at the start of the year, with further quarterly hikes expected.

Meanwhile in Aceh, dozens of students from the Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, took to the streets to protest the increases.

They accused Megawati and Vice President Hamzah Haz of siding with crooked tycoons and corrupt officials, and not ordinary people.

In Semarang, Central Java, over 100 students from the Sultan Agung Islamic University (Unisula) and Walisongo State Islamic University also held a rowdy two-hour protest against the government causing heavy traffic jams along the North Coastal road of Java.

The students also burned tires, creating panic among motorists plying the Semarang-Demak route.