Jakarta Death Toll Rises as Capital Remains Tense

JAKARTA
The Bali Times

The death toll from riots in Jakarta rose to three on Thursday as hundreds of noisy protesters gathered at city hall to demand the resignation of the capital’s governor.

More than 100 people were also injured, many seriously, in Wednesday’s clashes between security forces and people protesting over plans to bulldoze part of a cemetery containing a memorial to a revered Muslim scholar.

“Three members of the security forces were killed. One died this morning while two were killed yesterday,” a city official said.

Police fired tear gas, pepper bullets and water cannon to disperse hundreds of men armed with machetes, swords and sticks who had massed to protect the empty tomb of Habib Hasan bin Muhammad Al Hadad.

The 18th-century scholar’s remains were removed from the cemetery some years ago but his tomb is still considered a sacred place by many people in the poor northern suburb.

Members of the city’s Satpol public order force were seen beating, clubbing, kicking and stomping on injured protesters as the situation spun out of control.

Demonstrators were also seen beating and stamping on fallen Satpol officers, some of whom were badly gashed with machetes.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono criticised the security forces and demanded a peaceful resolution of the dispute, which left the port-side Tanjung Priok neighbourhood looking like a war zone.

“The incident should and could have been avoided and a decision could have been made to stop the operations once the conditions in the field became apparent,” Yudhoyono told a press conference late on Wednesday.

“Although the operations were legally justified they should not have been forcefully carried out,” he added, offering his sympathies to the families of the dead security personnel.

About 500 people protested loudly but peacefully outside city hall as Governor Fauzi Bowo met community leaders from the affected neighbourhood in a bid to ease tensions.

“I hope that people can reflect and take lessons from this bad incident,” he said, ignoring calls for his resignation.

The demonstrators shouted slogans and waved banners demanding Bowo resign and the public order force be disbanded. About 1,000 police were deployed around city hall but there was no further violence.

Bowo later visited the cemetery and offered Islamic prayers with community leaders. The area remained littered with the remains of dozens of burned-out trucks and police vehicles that blocked access to the port.

Human rights activists called for Jakarta Police chief Wahyono and Satpol chief Haryanto Badjuri to stand down, saying Satpol was nothing more than an undisciplined “killing machine.”

Wahyono apologised, but Badjuri defended the force and accused the protesters of starting the violence. The ensuing bloodshed was just “part of the dynamics in the field,” he told Tempo Interaktif news online.

“We were attacked first… There was (a Satpol officer) whose intestines were spilling out. And the three dead victims also came from our side, right?”

Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi also defended Satpol, but admitted it was “flawed” and promised an investigation.

“We don’t perceive them as a negative entity. They function to establish order and peace,” he said.

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