Hundreds in protest over rising prices

INDONESIAN security forces in Jakarta yesterday broke up a demonstration by hundreds of people protesting against rising food prices.

More than 500 military and police personnel armed with riot gear and automatic rifles blocked off part of the Jalan Gatot Subroto road in South Jakarta to stop a march by about 250 demonstrators, the largest public gathering in the capital since riots during last year’s general election.

Many of them were chanting “Merdeka” (freedom) and “lower prices” as they moved towards the Manpower Ministry to complain of rising unemployment and price increases.

The protesters wore red-and-white headbands signifying the colours of the national flag. They sat down in protest as police forces tried to control them. But clashes erupted after they resisted attempts by troops to remove the group’s leaders.

The baton-wielding troops managed to quell the disturbance before detaining about 70 protesters who were taken to the South Jakarta police headquarters. The others fled.

The South Jakarta police commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Yushariyanto, said that all 70 were freed after being given a warning.

He said that security forces, part of the 25,000 personnel on standby for the presidential poll next month, had moved in because the crowd was unruly and disrupted traffic.

“They were disturbing peace in the area and we had to take measures to clear the road,” he told The Straits Times.

Eye-witnesses said that the crowd, at one point, swelled to occupy a long stretch of a major road.

Police sources at the scene said the group, which claims to have no affiliation with any political party or organisation in the country, did not get permission to hold the demonstration.

The focus of their protest was clear though: rising food prices and unemployment.

Mr Paroji, 40, a construction worker who was laid off last month, and one of the many that took part in the demonstration yesterday, said:

“I don’t have enough money any more to feed my wife and three children. To make matters worse, prices have increased
without any control.

“I am hungry. So is my family. We can’t do anything about it except complain to the government.”

The protesters also vented their anger against corruption. In particular, they focused on high-profile Chinese businessman Eddy Tansil who escaped from prison in 1996 while serving a 20-year jail term for embezzling 1.3 trillion rupiah (S$270 million) from the state-owned Indonesian Development Bank.

They warned that protests would continue in the weeks ahead, with some saying there were plans to launch a nationwide campaign tomorrow.

The demonstration followed a similar, albeit smaller, one in the capital on Monday. But that passed peacefully.

It took place against a backdrop of unrest in more than 10 towns in Central and East Java and South Sulawesi, where riots have broken out over rising food prices.

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