Students resume protests in Indonesia streets over new law

AP , Monday 30 Sep 2019

Indonesian students
Indonesian students hurl rock towards policemen during a protest outside the parliament building in Jakarta on September 30, 2019. - Riot police fired tear gas at stone-throwing protesters as fresh protests erupted across Indonesia on September 30, sparked by a raft of divisive legal reforms including banning pre-marital sex and weakening the anti-graft agency. (AFP)

Thousands of Indonesian students resumed protests on Monday against a new law they say has crippled the country's anti-corruption agency, with some clashing with police.

Authorities blocked streets leading to the Parliament building in Jakarta, where 560 members of the House of Representatives whose terms ended Monday held their last session.

Clashes between rock-throwing students and riot police broke out in the evening when police tried to disperse the protesters, ranging from high school to university students, who attempted to reach Parliament after calm had largely returned to the country's capital over the past four days.

Protesters set fires to tires and pelted police with rocks, gasoline bombs and firecrackers near blocked streets. Riot police responded by firing tear gas and water cannons.

Similar clashes also occurred in other Indonesian cities, including in West Java's Bandung city and in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province, where a student was badly injured on Friday after being accidently hit by anti-riot armor.

A protest also turned violent in President Joko Widodo's hometown of Solo city in Central Java, where an angry mob threw rocks at police, injuring at least four female officers in the head.

The demonstrators are enraged that Parliament passed the law reducing the authority of the corruption commission, a key body fighting endemic graft in the country.

Activists say the revision weakens the powers of one of the most credible public institutions in a country where the police and Parliament are perceived as being widely corrupt.

The protests have grown since last week and turned violent in some cities, with the burning of police posts and public facilities such as a toll gate and bus stops.

At least three people, including two students in Kendari city on Sulawesi island, have died and several hundred were injured.

The death of the students sparked a national outcry, prompting Widodo to express his deep condolences and order the National Police chief to conduct a thorough investigation.

The protests, which underline Indonesia's challenge in changing its graft-ridden image, have threatened the credibility of Widodo, who recently was reelected after campaigning for clean governance.

He faced down riots in May by supporters of the losing candidate, former Gen. Prabowo Subianto, but those events were seen as partisan politics with limited support.

The new protests are not associated with any particular party or group, and instead are led by students, who historically have been a driving force of political change. Their demonstrations in 1998 triggered events that led the country's longtime strongman leader, Suharto, to step down.

The students are demanding that Widodo issue a government regulation replacing the new law on the corruption commission, known by its Indonesian abbreviation, KPK.

The anti-graft commission is frequently under attack by lawmakers who want to reduce its powers.

Widodo told reporters on Monday that the government would not forbid student demonstrations and called on protesters to avoid damaging public facilities.

``Our constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but the most important, do not be an anarchist who causes harm and violates the law,'' Widodo said.

He said he has listened deeply to people's aspirations expressed by students through the protests.

Widodo said last Thursday that he was considering revoking the new anti-corruption law. However, the idea was immediately opposed by members of his coalition in Parliament who want to reduce the powers of the anti-graft agency.

Bambang Wuryanto, a lawmaker from the governing Indonesia Democratic Party in Struggle, warned that Widodo's political image and his ties with coalition parties would be damaged.

``That would mean that the president does not respect the House of Representatives,'' Wuryanto said.

An anti-corruption watchdog, Indonesia Corruption Watch, accused lawmakers of trying to protect themselves after the commission named 23 sitting members of Parliament as corruption suspects, including the former House speaker and leaders of political parties.

``We all know that political parties have an aim to make the KPK no longer effective,'' Susanti said. ``The president should consider widespread people's aspirations rather than political parties' interests.''

Indonesia, Southeast Asia's largest economy, ranked 89th out of 175 countries in the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index compiled by Transparency International.

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