Aceh calm but violence breaks out elsewhere

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, AFP

Banda Aceh, the provincial capital of Indonesia’s restive Aceh province, was calm Sunday as the death toll linked to two days of pro-independence rallies reached 35.

By early afternoon, the city had resumed daily activities with many shops open for business and public transport back on the streets.

One thousand people had gathered at Darussalam university, the site of the previous two days of rallies, but there were no organized activities.

“It is still calm and if there are any street rallies again, I think it will be later this afternoon,” a local journalists said.

“But it seems it would be nowhere near the scale of the past two days,” he added.

An estimated 400,000 people had gathered in the capital since Wednesday to join protests in support of a referendum on independence.

Last year a similar protest drew up to one million people.

Rally organizers have blamed the lower turnout this year on violence used by police to prevent people from reaching the city.

The bodies of three men were found wrapped in a single black plastic sheet late on Friday night. A fourth body, a woman, was found on Saturday, according to Sibran Malasi, head of the Idi Rayeuk sub-district polyclinics where the bodies were sent to.

All showed traces of violence, Malasi said.

The four deaths brought to 35, the number of people who have died since Wednesday, when crowds started to throng Banda Aceh for the protests.

Security forces shot at two passing cars in Lampineung, near here late on Saturday, leaving two people injured, one of them critically, residents said.

Iswar Yusuf, an employee at the local governor’s office, who was travelling in one of the cars, said that his wife Husnarida, 40, had been shot in four places — in both her thighs, in her waist and in her stomach.

He said that he was driving his wife and two children home from a vist to his parents when he was stopped by security forces.

“My car stopped, but a bit farther than was ordered, and suddenly, from the front, the sides and from behind the car was shot at, with at least eight bullets shot into the car,” Yusuf said.

The shooting stopped when one of his children screamed.

Husnarida was still in critical conditions at the Zainul Abdidin general hospital, he said.

Another car carrying five people was also shot at by security forces manning a roadcheck, leaving one of the passengers, a woman, injured by a gunshot wound to the thigh.

A motorcycle driver and his passenger were also admitted to the emergency ward of the general hospital here after they were beaten up by security personnel at another roadcheck.

The rally has received a mixed response from Jakarta, with President Abdurrahman saying police should not resort to violence while the top security and political affairs minister, Susilo Bambang Yudoyono issued a stern warning that such large gathering could easily turn into a riot.