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Students seize petrol trucks at rally JAKARTA - Indonesian students seized five petrol trucks in the capital on Wednesday as thousands of protesters rallied in at least 10 cities across the country demanding a rollback of recent utility price hikes. Around 2,000 students gathered outside the presidential palace in Jakarta calling for President Megawati Sukarnoputri to stand down, some burning tyres and mock coffins and shouting "Democracy is Dead".
Protests have been an almost daily event across the impoverished nation since the government announced increases in fuel, electricity and telephone prices this month as part of a plan to phase out costly subsidies. Megawati has defended the policies and shown no inclination to reverse the rises, but key cabinet ministers will meet members of parliament late on Wednesday to discuss the price hikes.
"The parliament will give three options to the government (ministers) at tonight's meeting: drop all the price (increases), some of the prices or review those prices," said parliament speaker Akbar Tandjung. The protests come as a team from the International Monetary Fund prepares to review Indonesia's economic reform programme. The routine review of the reforms, which include winding back subsidies, is linked to the IMF's $5 billion loan programme.
Price hikes are a sensitive issue in poverty-stricken Indonesia and set off violent protests in 1998 which helped topple then president Suharto, during whose 32-year rule subsidies were introduced.

Lack intensity of 1998

But analysts say the current protests lack the intensity of those in 1998. "I don't think these protests could oust Megawati as the political elite supports the decision (to raise prices). But as a leader she shouldn't stay silent," said University of Indonesia political analyst Maswadi Rauf. One senior Western diplomat said the government largely had itself to blame for the backlash.
"My sense is that the price hikes are economically sound and justified and that they will not hurt the poor people, and in fact probably will help them in the longer run, but politically they were not accompanied by any sort of political strategy whatsoever to explain or to justify or to anticipate opposition," the diplomat said.
While most of the anger over the price hikes has been aimed at Megawati, he believed her leadership was not under any real threat before the next election and said recent changes to the constitution would make it difficult to oust her. "Bringing about a change in leadership before Summer of 2004 is almost by definition going to involve using extra-constitutional means."
Several lawmakers have asked Megawati to compromise on the issue but members of her Indonesian Democratic Party Struggle (PDIP), which has the most parliamentary seats, stand by her. At Wednesday's rally, students seized five petrol trucks owned by state oil firm Pertamina and drove them through several streets before police intervened. No arrests were reported.
"We'll take control of public assets if the government can no longer listen to the people. If we're accused as terrorists, we'll say the government is the real terrorist because they've made the people suffer a lot," said university student Rinaldi. Several kilometres away, hundreds of demonstrators tried to knock down the gates of parliament.
In some key cities across the country, students tried to storm offices of government-run telecoms and power firms. "The government isn't taking this seriously, they think it will die out, but the people's anger is spreading quickly," analyst Rauf said.



Posted in Protests @ 16 January 2003 00:01 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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