Tue, 04 Mar 2003

Workers threaten unrest over gambling den closure

Fadli The Jakarta Post Batam, Riau

Tension has blanketed a part of Batam as hundreds of workers, angered by the police closure of a casino in the resort area of Tering Bay, have threatened to attack other casinos on the industrial island in the Riau archipelago.

More than 500 workers and ojek (motorcycle taxi) drivers from Tering Bay marched to the local police station on Monday to demand that either the casino be reopened or that other casinos in Batam also be shut down.

Poniman, a 32-year-old security guard at Tering Bay, was one of the protesters opposed to the closure of the casino, which he said was their only source of income.

"We are asking the police to take this into account. If our place of work is shut down, please close the other casinos in Nagoya. They should not be allowed to stay open as that is discrimination," he said.

As their demands were not immediately met, rumors circulated that the protesters would launch attacks on several hotels and nightclubs operating without a gambling permit.

The threat came in reaction to the casino's closure by police on Friday following mounting pressure from religious leaders, activists of non-governmental organizations and other local community members to stop gambling.

Targets of possible attacks by the angry workers could include the Good Way Hotel in Nagoya, which they said had long been operating a casino.

In anticipation of a possible attack, plainclothes security personnel kept the three-star hotel under tight guard, sparking fresh tension in Nagoya and nearby areas.

Elsewhere across the city, other casino operators closed their doors in fear of possible attacks amid the demonstration by the workers and ojek drivers from Tering Bay in Nongsa subdistrict.

However, no violence was reported in Batam on Monday evening after the protest.

Barelang Police chief Sr. Comr. Suhartono vowed to take firm action against anyone attempting to spark unrest in Batam.

He said the police's move to stop gambling at Tering Bay was because it was unlawful.

However, he rejected the protesters' demand to shut down other casinos on the industrial island.

"We closed the casino at Tering Bay because its (gambling) permit was illegal. But we cannot close other gambling spots as many people there need that income to survive," Suhartono said.

During Friday's operation, led by Adj. Comr. Nasri, police officers made no arrests.

The police have pledged to summon Batam Mayor Nyat Kadir for questioning for his administration's decision last year to legalize gambling in Tering Bay in cooperation with local private company PT Dewa Menara Wisata as the management of the resort.

The mayor has refused to talk to journalists about the controversial issue for several weeks. Spokesman Hartoyo Sirkoen said Nyat Kadir would clarify the gambling issue with police.

"The mayor has told me that he has left the problem up to the police and he is waiting for a summons," Hartoyo said.

Meanwhile, the deputy speaker of the Batam legislature, Muhammad Nabil, backed the protesters' demand to shut down other gambling spots on the island to prevent possible unrest.

The move would also avoid sparking jealousy among operators and workers of casinos, he said.

"Raids on all casinos need to be carried out by police to avoid accusations of discrimination," Nabil said.