Tue, 14 Nov 2000

Traffic comes to a halt on capital's streets

JAKARTA (JP): The capital saw thousands of disgruntled motorists and commuters on Monday afternoon as the city was trapped in a severe traffic jam due to the street blockade by student protesters, who strongly demanded the re-investigation of the death of their fellow friends in the November 1998 shooting at the Semanggi area.

During the rally, the group of hundreds of student protesters from several organizations also demanded the resignation of President Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid for his alleged failure to bring significant recovery to the country.

No clashes were reported but the protest, which started from Atma Jaya University near the site of the incident to the legislators building, Hotel Mulia and Plaza Senayan shopping center in Senayan area, created bumper-to-bumper traffic on many major streets and toll roads in the heart of the capital and made it impossible for traffic to move in any direction.

"It's a very big headache," said a co-owner of a computer shop, who had to zig-zag to find alternative routes but still spent around two hours to reach her home in Pejompongan from Senayan Plaza. She usually only needs less than 15 minutes on normal days.

"These students look so stupid and arrogant to me because they create trouble for the public to get the government's attention," the businesswoman said.

The protesters, who mostly came from student organizations, such as Forkot (City Forum), Forbes (Student Collective Forum) and Famred (Student Action Front for Reform and Democracy), also demanded the government bring former president Soeharto and his cronies to court, seize their assets and investigate all alleged human rights abuses of the past, especially those committed by the military.

The students initially rallied in the afternoon on the roadside of busy Jl. Sudirman in front of the Atma Jaya university, very near the Semanggi cloverleaf; the site of the fatal 1998 shooting by the security authorities, that killed five students and injured several others.

Heavy traffic congestion began here.

At about the same time when many people began to leave their offices, the protesters marched from Semanggi to the west, heading for the People's Consultative Assembly/House of Representatives (MPR/DPR) building.

The flow of traffic, from all the four directions toward the Semanggi cloverleaf, was then immediately halted.

Upon their arrival at the MPR/DPR building, the students were joined by hundreds of people from other organizations, who also demanded that Gus Dur resign. The President is in Doha, Qatar, attending the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Organization.

Late in the afternoon, the students moved toward the nearby Mulia Hotel since they believed that Soeharto's youngest son, Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, who has been named a fugitive, was hiding somewhere in the building.

Hundreds of police personnel and the hotel's security personnel immediately blocked the students from entering the hotel, which is partly owned by Tommy's elder brother, Bambang Trihatmodjo.

Tommy has gone missing after he was convicted of a Rp 76.7 billion graft case.

A police personnel who talked with representatives of the protesters said the students had no right at all to search for Tommy in the hotel.

"Searching for Tommy is the police's job. If you have proof that Tommy is hiding inside this hotel, you should report that to the police and we'll do the search," the police officer explained.

After staying for about half an hour in front of the hotel, the students left peacefully toward Senayan Plaza shopping mall to hold a rally there.

The students only rallied in front of the shopping mall for several minutes then peacefully marched back to Atma Jaya University. (jaw/asa/nvn/bsr)