Peking students take to the streets

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ABOUT 200 Chinese university students staged a protest near the Indonesian embassy in Peking yesterday to denounce the mob rapes in mid- May of at least 168 ethnic Chinese Indonesian women during riots in Jakarta against then President Suharto.

It was the boldest public protest by students in Peking since the June 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

At one point, dozens of police and security watched as Chinese students held up a T-shirt signed with 100 names, reading "Against savage activity".

Student representatives were eventually allowed into the Indonesian embassy to deliver an 800-signature petition demanding Indonesia punish those responsible.

The students ignored an official order, turning down their request to hold a demonstration. "Like every Chinese who has a conscience I thought I should come," said a Peking University graduate, among a group of about 15 students, who held a brief sit-in at the embassy entrance. "This morning at the gate of the university, a lot of teachers tried to stop us. But I wanted to do this as I think it is right."

Yesterday's protests were timed to coincide with Indonesia's Independence Day, which it is feared may be marked by a wave of anti-Chinese violence.

While police guided the sit-in students down a nearby alley, about 150 people assembled a mile away outside the Indonesian ambassador's residence which also was surrounded by police and security officials with video cameras.

After about an hour, the demonstrators left peacefully when police said they must disperse or board a bus brought in to take them away. Police are terrified of the protests getting out of hand, but their behaviour so far suggests the government has given tacit approval to the anti-Jakarta movement.

Outrage over the atrocities committed against ethnic Chinese women in Indonesia has grown since the state-controlled media belatedly began reporting the May rapes about two weeks ago. Student activities started last week, with smaller protests, signs posted on campuses and petitions. Yesterday, across town from the student demonstrations, about 60 female Chinese intellectuals, wearing yellow ribbons, held an indoor protest in a room decked with banners reading "A blood debt should be repaid by blood" and "Indonesian monsters you are guilty".

Horrific photographs of rape victims, downloaded from the Internet, were displayed near a petition banner. Liao Xiaoyi, an environmentalist, said: "It is an opportunity for Chinese women to express their views. It is hard for people to believe. We got the news so late. I thought it happened last month - not in May."

The Chinese media gave scant coverage to the Indonesian riots in May, and the resignation of President Suharto. The parallels with Peking's pro-democracy demonstrations in June 1989 were obviously too sensitive. Nor did the Chinese government say anything in June when the first reports of Indonesian Chinese women being raped emerged. Many mainland Chinese were ignorant until reports circulated from Internet sites set up by overseas Chinese.

Leaflets handed out yesterday called on the Peking government to take a strong stance. "If the truth was reported from the land with 1.2 billion people a roar would break out that would shock the Indonesian government," a protester said.

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