Hundreds of students, police injured in Indonesia protests

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – More than 300 university students and police in Indonesia’s capital have been treated at hospitals after clashes during protests sparked by a new law that critics said cripples the country’s anti-corruption agency, police said yesterday.

Jakarta Police Chief Gatot Eddy Pramono told a news conference that at least 265 students and 39 police officers were treated in several hospitals and the country’s capital, with their injuries ranging from minor to serious.

The protest outside parliament on Tuesday saw police fire tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of rock-throwing students. The protest was dispersed just before midnight.

By yesterday morning, city officers were cleaning up rocks, plastic bottles, banners and other debris from the protest.

Students held similar protests and clashed with police in cities around the country on Tuesday, including Bandung, Yogyakarta, Malang, Palembang and Medan. Several student groups vowed to return to the streets yesterday and to do so until the new law is revoked.

Critics said the law passed in Parliament last week reduces the authority of the Corruption Eradication Commission, a key body in fighting endemic graft in the country.

The fallout from the new law, which underlines Indonesia’s challenge in changing its graft-ridden image, has threatened the credibility of President Joko Widodo, who recently won a second term after campaigning for clean governance.

Corruption is endemic in Indonesia and the anti-graft commission, one of the few effective institutions in the country of nearly 270 million people, is frequently under attack by lawmakers who want to reduce its powers.

Student protesters use sticks to attack riot police during a clash outside Parliament in Jakarta, Indonesia. PHOTO: AP

Hundreds of officials from various branches of government have been arrested since the independent anti-graft commission was established in 2002 as part of people’s demands during a reform movement following the ouster of the country’s longtime strongman leader, Suharto.

Activists said 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 revisions also reduce its independence, with investigators becoming civil servants who need to be seconded from state bodies, including the police.

The new protests are not associated with a 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 Suharto to step down.

Those demonstrating this week are demanding that Widodo issue a government regulation replacing the new law.

Jakarta Police Chief said police arrested 94 people who accused of violent acts in Tuesday’s protests, which turned violent as darkness fell.

“We are still investigating whether they are students or other members of society with different interests,” Pramono said.

Officials at Jakarta’s Pertamina Hospital said that 90 students were treated for injuries that included broken bones, head wounds and respiratory problems due to tear gas.

The hospital allowed most of them to return home yesterday, but three with head wounds remained hospitalised.

Another student was undergoing surgery at Pelni, another hospital in Jakarta, after suffering bleeding in his brain and fractured shoulder bones.

The protesters are also urging Parliament to delay votes on a new criminal code that would criminalise or increase penalties on a variety of sexual activities, as well as other bills on mining, land and labour.

Opponents said the proposed criminal code threatens democracy and discriminates against minorities.

Widodo met on Tuesday with lawmakers, whose terms finish at the end of this month, to urge them to delay votes on the bills after considering public concerns. Lawmakers then delayed their votes on the proposed laws in their last plenary session.