Fri, 15 Sep 2000

Two injured in rally near Soeharto's home

JAKARTA (JP): Students from pro- and anti-Soeharto groups met in another face-to-face confrontation near the former president's residence in Central Jakarta on Thursday, leaving at least two anti-Soeharto protesters injured by the police.

The presence of the two rival groups at the site left local residents in the plush Menteng area nervous.

While members of the pro-Soeharto group had already left the scene by late afternoon, many of the opposing group stayed in the area, yelling and pelting stones at the police.

At around 7 p.m., an unidentified group of some 20 people carrying bamboo sticks arrived on the scene.

Witnesses said the two parties then threw stones at each other from a distance.

A few warning shots were fired in the air by police to stop the two groups from engaging in further clashes.

The anti-Soeharto protesters only dispersed at around 10 p.m.

Thursday's rally started at noon when about 600 protesters, who claimed to be from the Betawi Youth Communication Forum and the United Islamic Organizations' Association (Goib), arrived in 27 minibuses at the intersection of Jl. Teuku Umar and Jl. Suwiryo, about 500 meters from Soeharto's residence.

The group were carrying banners, two of which read "We can't accept if Bapak H.M. Soeharto, the eradicator of communism in Indonesia, is tried during his illness" and "Oh God, heal Pak Harto from his illness".

Coordinator of the rally, H. Andi M. Sholeh, said that the rally was only meant to be a mass prayer meeting, which they eventually failed to hold.

"We just want to pray for the recovery of Pak Harto," Andi told The Jakarta Post.

He added that he was unaware that the students were going to stage an anti-Soeharto rally in the area.

"We didn't know they were coming," Andi said.

During a friendly chat with some reporters, a member of the group, who claimed to have just graduated from high school, said that he was paid Rp 20,000 to participate in the rally.

"The coordinator of the rally has not paid me yet but I personally know him," the young man said.

However, when two of his co-demonstrators heard him speaking to reporters about the payment, one of them angrily shouted, "Idiot!"

At about 4:30 p.m., the anti-Soeharto group which consisted of more than a thousand demonstrators, including members of the City Forum (Forkot) and the City Network (Jarkot), entered Jl. Teuku Umar from Surapati park on Jl. Diponegoro.

The demonstrators, who were mostly university students, were carrying bamboo sticks and molotov cocktails.

Hundreds of police personnel were immediately dispatched to the scene to prevent the group from entering Jl. Suwiryo.

Some members of the pro-Soeharto group, assembled behind the police blockade, were seen leaving the area.

One of those who fled the scene said, "I will not fight those people for Rp 20,000."

The anti-Soeharto group stopped about two hundred meters from the police cordon. However, dozens of the students started to move forward and throw rocks and molotov cocktails at the police.

As the students moved closer, the police launched a counter- charge and fired tear gas. Gunshots were also heard several times.

The police chased the students to Jl. Diponegoro, about 500 meters from Jl. Suwiryo, where the students continued to throw rocks and molotov cocktails.

Some of the students also threw rocks at reporters while yelling at them. (jaw)