Ten killed on Jakarta's streets of rage

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The Independent Online
IN SOME of the worst mob violence ever seen in Jakarta, 10 people were killed and shops, homes and cars were burned, hours after Indonesia's opposition leaders called on the armed forces to join them in deposing President Suharto.

Eyewitnesses said that nine ethnic Chinese were burned to death after gangs of youths attacked their homes, shouting "Let's kill the Chinese" and "Let's wipe out the Chinese". At least one other person was killed and more than 25 were injured as police and soldiers fired live rounds and plastic bullets in intermittent attempts to control the mob in the streets around Trisakti University.

It was the second day of violence in the Indonesian capital. On Tuesday police shot dead six students from the Trisakti campus. But what began as an act of remembrance for the dead students then degenerated into a frightening outburst of racist resentment directed against Indonesia's wealthy Chinese minority.

Two of the students were buried yesterday after an electrifying campus rally attended by the country's most influential and respected opposition leaders, including Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Indonesia's founding president, and Ali Sadikin, a retired marine general and former mayor of Jakarta. All of them denounced the killings of the students, called for the continuation of peaceful demonstrations and urged the armed forces to act against Suharto in order to further political reform.

"We make our appeal to the senior commanders of the Indonesian armed forces," said Amien Rais, the American-educated political scientists who leads the 28 million strong Muslim organisation, Muhammadiyah. "They have two options. Either protect the interests of one man and his family - or protect the entire nation. Muslims call on you to overthrow the power of exploitation."

All day the students continued their speeches within the university campus. But it was in the streets surrounding the campus that the most amazing scenes occurred as thousands of young men, mostly working class Jakartans, embarked on a five-hour rampage which police made only desultory attempts to contain.

The demonstrators began by pulling down trees and fences to create barricades near the university, then set fire to a lorry which burned under a fly- over, sending up billows of black smoke and effectively closing off one of the main approaches to the centre of Jakarta. Then they moved towards the hotel and shopping centre owned by members of President Suharto's family. It was at this point that riot police formed a line across a bridge over a canal.

"Kill the President!" the crowd screamed, as the police were driven back under a barrage of hurled rocks. One man demolished a set of traffic lights by striking it repeatedly with a No Parking sign ripped from a nearby pavement. Without any regard for their own safety, schoolboys carrying satchels ran within a few yards of the armed police. At first the police did no more than throw the stones back, but eventually they started firing, apparently with blank or plastic-coated rounds.

The mob then marched down Kyai Tapa street, tearing up street signs and ornamental lamp posts in full view of several hundred riot police and marines, who made little effort to intervene even when they came under fusillades of stones and petrol bombs.

The crowd then set a petrol station on fire. The mirrored glass windows of a branch of Bank Bali were smashed with stones; computer terminals ripped from inside were placed in a pile in the middle of the road and burned. By mid-afternoon, black clouds of smoke rose from at least five separate fires, all burning within a two mile radius.

At about 3 o'clock, a stolen Mitsubishi truck with smashed windows was driven towards a line of police. Shots rang out and the crowd scattered. A few minutes later, The Independent was shown the mutilated body of a man whose skull had been cracked open, apparently in a collision with the truck.

It was in the Cengkareng and Jelambar areas, north-west of the university, that gangs of looters set fire to Chinese shops and houses, killing nine people in the blazes. Less than 5 per cent of Indonesia's population is of Chinese extraction, but they control some 70 per cent of the country's wealth and have been increasingly targeted as scapegoats for the country's economic crisis.

There were intermittent volleys of shots all afternoon. Twenty-five people were treated at the university clinic, eight of them for wounds from plastic bullets. But one man was being operated on after being shot with a live round which entered the front of his shoulder and passed through out of his back, leaving a long, open exit wound.

The police and army appear to have learned one lesson from events on Tuesday - that casualties, especially those among students, only inflame an already explosive political situation.

There were similar, although less destructive demonstrations at universities in the cities of Surabaya and Yogyakarta, both of them, like Jakarta, on the island of Java.

The crisis in Indonesia remains fluid, as President Suharto is still absent from the country. Yesterday he announced he will curtail his state visit to Egypt. "He has changed his plans and he is leaving tomorrow after meeting [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak," one Indonesian official said.

President Suharto arrived in Cairo on Saturday to attend a summit meeting of developing countries and pay an official visit to Egypt, leaving behind his country rent by riots and its worst economic crisis in decades. The president has made no public comment on the rioting in Indonesia during his stay in Cairo.

The European Union yesterday called on Indonesia to investigate the deaths in recent disturbances and refrain from lethal force. "The loss of life in Indonesia is disturbing," said a statement released by the Foreign Office in Britain, current president of the EU.

The violence and boldness of this week's demonstrations show a remarkable change of mood in a people who have passively tolerated the rule of one man for 32 years. It is hard to believe that such as change can now be arrested, let alone reversed.