Protests, strikes in Indonesia cities

JAKARTA, Reuters

Indonesian police fired warning shots and tear gas at more than 700 students protesting over national fuel price hikes in Jakarta on Monday as bus drivers went on strike in eight cities across the country.

Police shot students with rubber bullets after they refused to stop burning tires and blocking streets in a south Jakarta suburb near their university.

Police said a dozen students were injured in the clash, which also involved local residents.

“We had to shoot at them with rubber bullets because they were attacking us. We paralyzed 12 of them … we aimed at their legs but one also got shot in the lower back,” Jakarta police spokesman Anton Bahrul Alam told Reuters.

“After that they agreed to stay off the streets and we were able to clear the site and get traffic flowing again,” he added.

During a later clash near a university in central Jakarta, students hurled Molotov cocktails and stones at police. No injuries were immediately reported.

Police and soldiers are on high alert in Jakarta and two other key Indonesian cities, although the capital has only been sporadically affected by striking bus drivers who have targeted other parts of the troubled archipelago.

Most of the protesting drivers have demanded an official increase in fares following the 30 percent jump in fuel prices late last week, which has already triggered some unrest and put more strain on the country’s millions of poor.

“The police, backed up by the military, have put 42,000 personnel on high alert in Jakarta. They are being deployed at economic centers, public places, gas stations and other places which are considered hot spots,” national police spokesman, Brigadier-General Didi Widayadi, told Reuters.

“If strikes go ahead and protests turn into anarchy we will take all necessary steps,” he said, without elaborating.

Military and police trucks have been parked near bus terminals in the capital in anticipation of a full-blown strike.

No violence has been reported from the eight strike-hit cities.

Officials in the oil port city Pekanbaru in Riau province on Sumatra island said the city’s bus drivers were protesting in front of the local parliament.

Police in the eastern city Sumbawa Besar on Sumbawa island had to deploy trucks and buses to move stranded commuters to offices and schools after all bus drivers went on strike.

“We are now the public’s transportation,” a Sumbawa Besar police sergeant told Reuters by telephone.

The Antara news agency reported bus strikes were also under way in at least four cities in eastern Sulawesi island and at two cities in central Java.

Violence over fuel prices and a decree that abolished severance pay has added pressure on President Abdurrahman Wahid, facing impeachment in August over his erratic 20-month rule. Fuel prices are a thorny issue in Indonesia, and sparked riots that helped topple former President Suharto in May 1998.

Besides Jakarta, police are on high alert in Bandung in West Java, scene of some of the most recent unrest. Authorities there on Monday allowed bus fare increases, local media said.