Jakarta burns after police raid pro-democracy HQ

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The Independent Online
At Least one person died in riots in Jakarta yesterday after Indonesian police raided the occupied headquarters of the pro-democracy Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI). More than 10,000 people took to the streets in support of the ousted PDI leader, Megawati Sukarnoputri, burning a government ministry, a bank, and army offices in the worst civil unrest seen in the capital for thirty years.

The violence began shortly after dawn when hundreds of riot police arrived at the offices of the PDI in central Jakarta, accompanied by 200 stone- throwing youths. They wore shirts identifying themselves as supporters of Suryadi, a rival claimant to the leadership of the PDI.

Witnesses claimed, however, that they were actually members of Permuda Pancasila, an organisation of youthful zealots loyal to the government of President Suharto.

The riot police looked on as they threw stones at the PDI building which has been occupied for the past month by hundreds of supporters of Mrs Megawati. After an exchange of missiles, including bricks and petrol bombs, the police battered down the gates and fought with PDI members armed with bamboo sticks. About 20 people, several of them bleeding and unconscious, were carried out and taken in police vehicles to the military hospital. A car and bus were set alight and about 200 Megawati supporters, stripped to the waist, were driven away under arrest.

The streets around the headquarters were sealed off, but by 11am thousands of people were surging against the police cordons. One man wept as he punched at the shields of the riot police. Behind them were rows of soldiers and armoured vehicles mounted with water cannons. Protesters chanted "long live Megawati", "Megawati or death" and "Army murderers". There were sporadic incidents of stone throwing, but other people in the crowd called for order.

By mid afternoon the riots had escalated, as protesters broke into and set fire to buildings in the Salemba district, close to the University of Indonesia. One man was reported by local radio to have died after jumping from the burning Export-Import Bank. Two other banks, the women's army command, and a seven-storey building owned by the Agriculture Ministry were also ablaze, and several cars and buses and a fire engine were tipped over and set alight.

At least four armoured cars and one tank carried riot police and soldiers through the area. There were no reports of shooting, but footage taken by local film crews showed police beating unarmed protesters with batons, and several of their victims lay apparently unconscious on the ground. A reporter for the news agency Agence France Presse was hurt by a flying stone, and the political counsellor of the US Embassy, Edmund McWilliams, was struck by a soldier as he attempted to protect a fallen woman.

The riots represent a dangerous escalation of what began a month ago as a squabble over the leadership of the PDI. Under the leadership of President Suharto, Indonesia has been ruled for 30 years by the Golkar faction. Two other parties, the Muslim PPP and the PDI, are allowed to exist under strict government control. In June, at a congress on the island of Sumatra, the incumbent leader, Mrs Megawati, was replaced by Suryadi, a decision which was vehemently rejected by PDI chapters all over the country.

Mrs Megawati is the daughter of Sukarno, the country's first president who was replaced by Suharto after a military coup in 1965. Her peremptory dismissal as PDI leader has boosted her already considerable popularity: on 20 June, 75 people were injured after a demonstration in her support was broken up by riot police in Jakarta. Until yesterday morning, Megawati supporters occupied the PDI headquarters, decorating it with posters and slogans, and delivering speeches calling for greater democratic freedom and an end to corruption.

Yesterday's events come at a time of tension and uncertainty in Indonesia, amid growing doubts about the future of President Suharto. Open criticism is taboo, but complaints among Megawati supporters about "corruption" represent veiled references to his family, which is widely resented for its stranglehold on Indonesia's biggest and most lucrative business projects. In April, Tien Suharto, his wife of nearly 50 years and closest confidant, died; a few weeks later, he underwent medical tests in Germany. Despite being pronounced fit, the stock markets have been jittery over persistent rumours about his health.

Suharto has never been opposed in the presidential elections which will next be held in 1998. Recently there has been growing speculation that Mrs Megawati might stand, although now, having been ousted from the PDI leadership, she is ineligible to do so. She herself has always maintained that her only goal is to take her legitimate place as PDI leader. But in a country which still places strict control on freedom of expression, her protest has become the focus of much wider, long pent-up frustrations.