Indonesian military chief warns of collapse

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The Independent Online
THE HEAD of Indonesia's armed forces said unrest may lead to the fall of the government and even the country's' collapse, as demonstrations, riots and looting raged in several cities. "The demands of these groups ... can shake this legitimate government and break up the nation's unity, which could lead to disintegration," said General Wiranto, who is also Defence Minister. He was speaking to parliament after a fortnight of growing discontent with the government of President B J Habibie, who replaced President Suharto after similar unrest in May.

In Medan, in Sumatra, shops owned by Chinese families were stoned after a demonstration lurched out of control. Bus and taxi drivers and students protested at the provincial government office over the price of spares, driven up by the collapse of the rupiah last year and the subsequent economic crisis. Dozens of people were arrested after mobs ran through the town, looting. There were lesser disturbances in the Sumatran city of Jambi as well as on the island of Sulawesi and in Semarang, in Central Java.

The Minister for Food, A M Saefuddin, was quoted in a newspaper yesterday as admitting that 17 million of the country's 202 million people do not have enough to eat.

"The urban poor are especially vulnerable. In many rural areas, people are more used to hardship and can seek alternative ways to cope. Those who demonstrate or loot are usually the urban poor."

The IMF, which has bailed out the economy, recently announced measures to help Indonesia to relieve the crisis, including tax breaks on rice, to reduce food shortages.

Anti-Chinese riots, which have broken out across the country this year, often start with rumours that a particular shopkeeper has been hoarding rice to sell it later at inflated prices.