Fri, 29 Sep 2000

Running street battles erupt after Soeharto walks

JAKARTA (JP): Some 30 people were wounded in the capital on Thursday in clashes between anti-Soeharto and pro-Soeharto protesters and the police following the dismissal of corruption charges against the former president.

Police stated that at least one anti-Soeharto protester was killed in a clash with police personnel near the trial's venue at the Ministry of Agriculture in Ragunan, South Jakarta. But police could not identify the victim and there were no reports of any bodies being taken to the hospital.

The clashes, which began near the ministry about 30 minutes before the trial got underway at 10 a.m., continued late into the night near the private residence of Soeharto on Jl. Cendana in Central Jakarta, about 12 kilometers to the north.

A bus used by Soeharto's supporters, a military vehicle and two police motorcycles were set ablaze at separate locations in the capital by student protesters and spectators.

The demonstrators continued to rally at Megaria on Jl. Diponegoro and Salemba area late into the night. Together with locals who joined the demonstration, they beat a military soldier and a police officer, and burned the military vehicle and a police motorcycle.

As of late Thursday night, police had arrested at least 46 people in connection to the violence. All of those detained were among the group demanding the former president be jailed immediately for human rights abuses and economic crimes during his 32 years in office.

During the clashes, 13 anti-Soeharto protesters, 10 pro- Soeharto protesters, three journalists were injured.

Unlike the demonstrations which surrounded the first two sessions of the Soeharto trial, police officers -- deployed at the trial's venue and in Cendana -- were quick to react to protesters. During the previous demonstrations, police showed greater patience toward the anti-Soeharto demonstrators, mostly university students from the City Forum (Forkot).

The first incident on Thursday took place around 800 meters from the trial venue when spectators on Jl. T.B. Simatupang chased and beat pro-Soeharto demonstrators who had arrived in a public minibus, which the mob torched.

Jakarta Police spokesman Supt. M. Nur Usman said 10 of the Soeharto supporters were badly injured in the incident and were rushed to nearby hospitals.

The situation cooled down before approximately 1,000 anti- Soeharto protesters from Forkot and activists from the Democratic People's Party (PRD) arrived at about 1 p.m. by foot from two separate directions.

They were blocked by a cordon of some 200 police officers, who refused to allow the protesters to enter the ministry's compound.

After failed negotiations, the students began shouting and several minutes later, as the rain poured down, a number of the demonstrators pelted stones and Molotov cocktails at the police. The officers then proceeded to march on the protesters, firing tear gas and rifles to disperse the demonstrators.

The protesters fled in the face of the police charge, scattering in different directions, including some who took refuge in the homes of local residents.

Sporadic fighting continued for more than three hours as the demonstrators continued to hurl stones at the police.

After the police pulled out, the demonstrators swept the area and burned a police motorcycle parked nearby, ignoring the protests of residents.

Two soldiers in uniform riding a motorcycle were stopped by the demonstrators, some of whom attempted to grab the soldiers' rifles. The soldiers fired warning shots to disperse the crowd.

Shortly after the trial ended with all charges against Soeharto being dismissed, a similar scene began to play out in Cendana. Soeharto supporters arrived in the area at about 2 p.m. aboard 16 minibuses, and groups of anti-Soeharto protesters began appearing at dusk.

Some 500 anti-Soeharto protesters were greeted with rocks and Molotov cocktails hurled by the Soeharto supporters near the fountain on Jl. Teuku Umar, about 200 meters from the former president's residence.

When the students fought back, the pro-Soeharto group retreated behind the police lines, which had been established to block the road to Jl. Cendana.

The anti-Soeharto demonstrators appeared ready to end their rally and depart when hundreds of police officers began pursuing them. The demonstrators attempted to escape by running up the small Jl. Padalarang, only to find their way blocked by the football field-sized Lembang pond.

The situation quickly spiraled out of control as dozens of police officers moved in, arbitrarily firing tear gas into the demonstrators. Several of the demonstrators attempted to jump over the gates surrounding two homes near the lake.

As the situation deteriorated, some officers were seen angrily shouting, ignoring their commanders' orders to stop firing. Several police officers became so enraged they hurled their batons at the houses.

At least 30 demonstrators were arrested and taken away in a police truck. Ten couples who were parked by the lake became caught up in the scene and jumped over a fence into the yard of one of the houses before being taken into custody. They were later released. (bby/jaw/dja)