Clashes tested Indonesian army's patience

HOURS before last night's confrontation between the Indonesian army and students started, there was a worrying portent of trouble to come, as thousands of Islamic supporters of Indonesia's President Habibie threw stones and scuffled with demonstrating students in Jakarta.

The incident occurred at the parliament building where students have rallied all week demanding reforms and a change of government. After the resignation of President Suharto on Thursday, they began to call for the head of his successor and former vice-president, BJ Habibie. "Habibie will be the second great disaster", read a giant banner drapped across the main parliament building.

The banner was a target for some 5,000 Habibie supporters who burst into the parliamentary compound early yesterday, shouting "God is Great" in Arabic and rhythmically chanting Mr Habibie's name. After the crowd burst into the square where the students were peacefully listening to speeches,there was a dangerous standoff which threatened to develop into a violent confrontation as the Muslim protestors tore down banners criticising the new president.

Student leaders pleaded with their followers not to be provoked. "We are one commando", they shouted in response to the Muslim chants; they like to describe themselves as a united commando group, fighting to bring democracy to Indonesia.

The Muslims claimed to be students but many of them were clearly not from college. Leaders denied they had been mobilised by Mr Habibie, but admitted he knew about the demonstration in advance.

It appeared some careful organisation had gone into the protest because the demonstrators came with professionally printed banners and head bands which helped to distinguish them from the students.

The restraint of the students defused the situation, though a second group of Muslim protestors arrived after the first had left. This smaller group were seperated from the students by soldiers who had not intervened when the first group arrived.

For much of 32 years in power Suharto was able to balance the interests of the Muslim majority, who make up 90 per cent of Indonesia's population, with those of minority races and religions. Athough he is a practising Muslim, Suharto's style of leadership owed as much to that of the traditional Javanese kings, as to the precepts of Islam. It was only very late in life, for instance, that he made the pilgrimage to Mecca. Mr Habibie, however, is seen as a much more committed Muslim, and yesterday's incident suggests he may yet become a focus of fundamentalist agitation.

"For 30 years Muslims had nothing under the New Order, and all the money went to Chinese and Christians," said Darwin Agus, of the Islamic Youth of Indonesia, one of the groups demonstrating in the new President's support. "Habibie is a good start in preparing for the next step, government by the Koran."

The naming of a new cabinet has done little to increase confidence in Mr Habibie whom many in Jakarta see as an interim leader filling the gap between Suharto and a likely successor drawn from the ranks of the military.

The two most blatant examples of favouritism from Suharto's last cabinet have been sacked: the fallen president's eldest daughter, Siti Hardijanti Rukmana, who was in charge of welfare, and Bob Hasan, his golfing partner and trade minister. But half of the new cabinet is made up of old ministers.

"I am neither endorsing nor opposing the cabinet," said Amien Rais, the country's Muslim opposition leader. "The cabinet has a lot of technocrats in it but some of the names still reflect old ways."

General Wiranto, chief of the armed forces and one of the most powerful candidates to succeed Mr Habibie, stayed on as defence minister. Yesterday, in a statement that can now be seen as an oblique warning about the events that were to take place last night, he said student demonstrations would not be tolerated indefinitely. "I expect the students to end their mass actions and go back to their campuses to study," he said.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Voices
Ed Miliband and David Cameron are neck and neck in the polls
election 2015Armando Iannucci: on how British politics is broken
News
i100
Life and Style
Great minds like Einstein don't think alike
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds This i...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power