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Unrest Spreads To 16 Indonesian Cities

by Andreas Harsono

on Indonesia's crisis, and why it is poorly reported in U.S. media
(AR) JAKARTA -- With a new coalition of student-led activists mobilizing the largest protests since the overthrow of Suharto in May, scores of Indonesian cities saw enormous crowds demanding a 3-day general strike, while in some areas citizens swarmed over airports to demand that pilots to fly them to Jakarta to join the swelling ranks of protesters.

The students focused upon the killing of five protesters in Jakarta on Friday when soldiers opened fire and wounded dozens of students in front of Atmajaya University, about one kilometer from the Indonesian parliament building.

Agence France Presse reported that two were killed in the province of Aceh, including a protester in a group blocking police from raiding the home of a rebellion leader. In all, at least 16 people have died in the protests, but President B.J. Habibie said violence had tapered off on Sunday.

In an incident that suggested wider public anger against the army and police, thousands of rioters also attacked a police station. Indonesia's SCTV showed a dramatic image of a single police officer who was stranded inside the mob and attacked by dozens of people. The policeman was seen trying to escape but stopped by more attackers and beaten until bleeding from his head. Some Marine officers, however, intervened to save his life and managed to persuade the crowd to stop beating the officer.

More than 50,000 protesters encircle the parliament building
The Kompas daily newspaper reported that in Medan, Indonesia's third largest city in northern Sumatra, more than 10,000 students marched on Saturday from the local provincial parliament building to the Polonia airport, using public buses and trucks to reach the airport.

After some minor clashes with the police and army officers, the students managed to enter the Polonia airport and boarded airplanes parked on the tarmac for about four hours. They initialy asked pilots to bring them to Jakarta to join other protesting students in the capital.

The local airlines, however, refused to fly the angry students but had to cancel their flights. Other airplanes were unable to land at the airport, whose ground handling radio antenna was damaged during the protest.

Students also staged protests in airports in Denpasar, the capital of the popular tourism destination of Bali, as well as in Pontianak, the largest Indonesian city on the main island of Kalimantan, saying that they wanted travellers and tourists to know of their anti-military protests.

Student leader Ali Fahmi told SCTV that they basically demanded the military end its presence in the Indonesian parliament, where it occupies between 10 and 20 percent of the seats without having competed in election over the last 30 years.

The People's Consultative Assembly -- the nation's highest lawmaking body -- endorsed a continued military presence during a four-day session last week. Only the Muslim-based United Development Party in the 1,000-member assembly voted against the controversial decree.

That rejection has angered the students, prompting more than 50,000 students, human rights workers and other protesters to encircle the parliament building in Jakarta. When protestors tried to penetrate the military blockade, the army began shooting rubber bullets and some live ammuniton at the protesters.

Widespread smaller protests
In the cities of Surabaya, Bandung and Yogyakarta on the main island of Java, more than 25,000 students also staged street rallies on Saturday, trying to enter local military command offices and delivering fiery speeches critical of the military.

Kompas reported that most of the protests in 16 cities were relatively peaceful. In Ujungpandang in the southern part of Sulawesi, more than 1,000 student protesters camped on the runway of the Hasanuddin airport, crippling operations for several hours on Saturday.

In Jakarta, students even joined with Indonesian marines on Saturday to prevent crowd from attacking Chinese-owned shops and other shopping centers. In some areas, they walked hand-in-hand with the soldiers to discourage outsiders from becoming destructive.

Jakarta radio stations also helped mobilize the public to donate medicine, food, dry clothes, bottled water and blanket to the protesting students via the "Voice of Concern Mothers," a grassroots organization managed by housewives, which set up a public kitchen in the posh and strategic Menteng area in Jakarta.

It was also this group which organized tons of supplies in May for student protesters who occupied the Indonesian parliament building and forced former Indonesian strongman Suharto to step down on May 21.

In Semarang, about 300 kilometers east of Jakarta, students held a protest in the the heart of the city, and later occupied the office of the state-owned RRI nearby, demanding that the radio manager broadcast their speeches live.

Hundreds of the students also occupied for three days last week a local parliament building about 150 kilometers from there. There they also demanded the local RRI station broadcast their statements live, but the station manager refused and instead used a taped statement in its regular news report.

Similar protests also took place in smaller cities on the island of Sumatra as well as on the island of Java. Many of them managed to enter military offices and lowered the flag to half-mast in honor of their slain colleagues.

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Albion Monitor November 15, 1998 (

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