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Uneasy Calm Settles Over Jakarta

by Andreas Harsono

on Indonesia's crisis, and why it is poorly reported in U.S. media
(AR) JAKARTA -- Relative calm returned to Jakarta on Sunday after a long week of violent street protests ripped many parts of this city apart. Tanks, military trucks and armed soldiers were still guarding many government and business areas this evening.

Shops, restaurants and supermarkets were still closed in many parts of the capital in fear of renewed unrest, prompting nervous housewives and shoppers to rush to traditional markets early Sunday morning to buy foodstuffs.

"Now it is cooling down. Everybody is exhausted," said student leader Rama Pratama of the University of Indonesia, adding that Saturday night was especially tense as rumors circulated that the army was about to launch a coup.

Former President Suharto criticized the government's bloodshed
In an apparent bid to calm the protests that erupted against his harsh crackdown on the students, Indonesian President B.J. Habibie met with members of the National Human Rights Commission at his home on Sunday evening.

Commissioner Marzuki Darusman said that his team had urged the Habibie government to conduct an investigation into the shooting spree, adding that he also asked Habibie to make a commitment to fully implement the results of the special session of the People's Consultative Assembly.

Nationwide protests broke out last week when Indonesian students charged that a special session of the assembly -- the country's highest legislative body -- had failed to produce measures that can ensure an open path to democratization of the world's fourth most-populous country.

The protests climaxed on Friday evening when army soldiers opened fire against the students and killed at least six protesters. Several other people were also killed by stray bullets. Some government supporters were also killed by the mob.

Police targetted several opposition leaders of the National Front and the National Reform Movement, saying that they might be involved in mobilizing the student protests and trying to topple the legitimate government of Habibie.

But the two most famous targets of the police investigation are former Jakarta governor Ali Sadikin and Lt. Gen. (ret) Kemal Idris, the head of the National Front, a loosely-organized group of retired generals and nationalist figures. Idris spearheaded a campaign to bring down the late President Sukarno in the late 1960s.

In an interview with SCTV, Sadikin denied that he was involved in the student movement, questioning how a group of retired officers could finance and give order to the students.

"Indeed, we do support the students," he said. "It's not a question anymore. But how could we give the order to organize the protest?"

"If they want to arrest me, go ahead. I am not afraid," Idris said defiantly. "That's a risk I am ready to take," adding that the Habibie government and the assembly should listen to the demands of the students as their first priority.

Agence France Presse commented that the roundup was a sign of government panic, as the Habibie government faces its first popular protest since former president Suharto's overthrow in May.

According to the official Antara wire service, Suharto himself criticized the government's handling of students that led to bloodshed on Friday, "The reason why I resigned in the first place was to avoid bloodshed. Why should this happen now?" Suharto reportedly asked.

But high-ranking army officers Sunday said they suspected an unnamed "third party" of suborning military units or individual soldiers, and said at least one instance of a sniper firing into a crowd of protestors was being investigated.

Meanwhile, shoppers in suburbs of Jakarta find only shrimp at the market, with no chicken or meat available. Rice prices also increased due to the sudden rise in demand. News agents in the area also complained that newspaper deliveries had been delayed due to the riots and the street protests since Tuesday of last week.

Radio Sonora reported Sunday night that most areas in Jakarta are relatively calm. There was little traffic and for once people were able to easily reach their destinations in this city of 10 million people, which is familiar with heavy traffic jams.

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Albion Monitor November 16, 1998 (

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