Jakarta Tense as Riot Death Toll Rises

JAKARTA

THE death toll from bloody riots in the capital Jakarta rose to three on Thursday, as hundreds of police were deployed to guard city hall amid fears of further violence, officials said.

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 spokesman for Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo 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 the 18th century scholar, Habib Hasan bin Muhammad Al Hadad.

The scholar’s remains were removed from the cemetery some years ago but his tomb is still considered a holy 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 stomping 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 Tanjung Priok neighbourhood near Jakarta’s international port 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, while offering his sympathies to the families of the dead security personnel.

About 500 demonstrators gathered at city hall on Thursday as Bowo held meetings with community leaders from the affected neighbourhood.

“I hope that people can reflect and take lessons from this bad incident,” he said, ignoring calls for him to stand down.

The demonstrators shouted slogans and waved banners demanding Bowo’s resignation and the disbanding of the public order force, but otherwise the protest was peaceful.

People paid their respects at the scholar’s tomb on Thursday as scavengers picked through the remains of dozens of burned-out trucks and police vehicles which littered the area and blocked access to the port.

Human rights activists called for Jakarta police chief Wahyono and Satpol chief Haryanto Badjuri to stand down.

“Satpol has been successful in becoming a killing machine against ordinary people,” Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace chairman Hendardi said.

He said the force, which is different to the national police, served only as “accommodation for unemployed people.”

“They deal face to face with people so they need more than physical skills,” he said.

Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi defended the force 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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