Protests turn violent across Indonesia

JAKARTA (AP) – Protests in many Indonesian cities turned violent on Thursday as thousands of enraged students and workers criticised a new law they said will cripple labour rights and harm the environment.

Clashes between rock-throwing demonstrators and riot police broke out near Jakarta’s presidential palace as police tried to disperse the protesters, including workers and high school and university students.

Police fired tear gas at the protesters from several high schools and universities as they tried to approach the palace compound, turning roads into a smoke-filled battleground. The protesters hurled rocks and bottles.

As night fell, some protesters set fire to a subway shelter in downtown Jakarta, causing the area to turn an eerie orange colour.

Demonstrators also burned road barriers, several cars, a cinema and damaged several government offices.

A protester prepares to throw a brick at police trying to stop a rally from advancing towards the Presidential Palace in Jakarta. PHOTO: AP

Indonesia’s Security Minister Mohammad Mahfud told a televised news conference late Thursday the government would not tolerate any action of damaging public facilities and physical attacks on police and community members.

Flanked by the military chief and other top leaders, Mahfud said that those acts are insensitive to the conditions suffered by people who are struggling against COVID-19 and financial difficulties.

“For this reason, for the sake of order and security, the government will take a firm stand against anarchist actions aimed at creating chaos and fear in society,” he said, “The government will carry out legal proceedings against all perpetrators and actors who ride on these anarchist and criminal actions.”

Similar clashes occurred in large cities all over the country, including Yogyakarta, Medan, Makassar, Manado and Bandung.

Organisers have called for a three-day national strike starting on Tuesday demanding that the government revoke the legislation.

The Job Creation Law approved by Parliament on Monday is expected to substantially change Indonesia’s labour system and natural resources management. It amended 79 previous laws and was intended to improve bureaucratic efficiency as part of efforts by Widodo’s administration to attract more investment to the country.

The demonstrators said the law will hurt workers by reducing severance pay, removing restrictions on manual labour by foreign workers, increasing the use of outsourcing, and converting monthly salaries to hourly wages. “We vow to continue returning to the streets until the new law is revoked,” said Andi Khiyarullah, a protest organiser from the Indonesia Alliance’s student executive body.

Police in Jakarta also blocked streets leading to Parliament, preventing labour groups from holding a mass rally there, and detained at least 200 students who attempted to reach the compound, Jakarta police spokesman Yusri Yunus said.

“They have been provoked by invitations on social media to create a riot in Jakarta,” Yunus said.