Fresh riots break out in Indonesia

Fears that perpetrators stirring up trouble before polls.

Regional Economic CRUNCH

FRESH riots over price increases broke out in two Indonesian towns yesterday amid official concern that trouble-makers were out to whip up unrest ahead of next month’s presidential election.

In the East Java coastal town of Pasuruan, police fired warning shots yesterday to disperse a mob of 300 people.

The Pasuruan district military commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Nugroho, said police arrested about 10 people who had started to stone shops and then threatened to burn them down in protest against rising prices.

Violence has also broken out in the island of Sulawesi.

About 2,000 people went on a rampage in the coastal town of Banawa yesterday over increases in the prices of essential goods, a military officer there told AFP news agency.

The rioters stoned shops in the town centre before being dispersed, he said.

Earlier, the Indonesian authorities said they had detained 21 people who went on a riot in the Central Java district of Rembang last week.

An Indonesian armed forces (Abri) source told The Straits Times yesterday that the security authorities believed that those arrested in Rembang were aiming to generate instability in the district and nearby towns in the run-up to the election.

“That is our preliminary assessment,” said the official, who was investigating the riots.

“They were using a rise in food prices as an excuse to cause disturbances for purely political motives.”

He said the military was looking into this possibility given that it was very difficult for the rioters to fund the disturbances themselves.

He said: “Someone or some political organisation was behind the riots and and our aim now is to try and establish what links those caught have with them.”

Rembang police chief, Lieutenant-Colonel Soekamto, was quoted in news reports yesterday as saying that the rampage involving more than 100 people broke out following a run on basic commodities amid rumours of price increases.

Disturbances have also been reported in the nearby towns of Lasem and Sarang, with mobs targeting shops owned by ethnic Chinese.

Those incidents followed rioting in the adjacent towns of Kragan last Monday and Tuesday and Sluke on Wednesday.

The Jakarta Post reported that violence had also spread across the provincial border into East Java, with rioters damaging shops and looting several towns because of increases in the prices of basic goods.

The Abri source said that the situation in Rembang and nearby towns had returned to normal but hundreds of police and military personnel were on alert in anticipation of more disturbances.

Recent social unrest in Indonesia has been blamed on economic disparities and many fear social agitation could gather momentum as the rupiah devaluation begins to bite.

A two-star Abri general disclosed to The Straits Times recently that the military was expecting problems in the country after the Aidilfitri holidays and that it would be on high alert before the presidential polls.

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