JAKARTA (AFP) – Thousands of Indonesians protested nationwide Tuesday to reject the government’s plan to hike the subsidised fuel price, with sporadic violence breaking out and injuring several people.
In Jakarta, a clash broke out between police and a group of students near the presidential palace, injuring five policemen and “fewer than 10” protesters, Jakarta police spokesman Rikwanto told reporters.
Around 500 protesters had pelted rocks, petrol bombs and sticks at police, who then fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd, an AFP photographer saw.
“The group was heading to the presidential palace. We stopped them… but they damaged several public facilities”, said Rikwanto, who like many Indonesians only goes by one name.
He said 35 people were detained for questioning.
Around 3,500 protesters turned out in Jakarta, much fewer than the reportedly 15,000 people the organisers had promised.
Earlier, around 300 protesters gathered outside parliament house in the capital Jakarta, carrying banners reading: “Fuel hike will put people in misery”, and others asking the government to step down.
Around 100 police with batons and riot shields struggled to control protesters, mainly students and labour union members, as they pried open an iron gate to the building.
More than 20,000 police and soldiers were deployed in Jakarta, according to Rikwanto, amid fears of a repeat of violent protests caused in the past by similar plans to hike the fuel. In 1998, riots and unrest partly triggered by a government fuel price rise brought down the Suharto dictatorship.
Protesters also gathered in other major cities, including Medan on Sumatra island where around 6,000 people turned out, and Surabaya in eastern Java where around 3,000 protesters gathered, AFP correspondents saw.
“Fuel hikes will only give additional burden to poor people as it will cause staple food prices to rise,” Amir, a student protester, told AFP in the second largest city of Surabaya. About half of the Indonesian population live on less than two dollars a day.
Violence also broke out in South Sulawesi provincial capital of Makassar, where around 2,000 people protested in several places including the governor’s office.
Protesters there had thrown rocks at anti-riot police, who then fired tear gas to disperse the crowd, an AFP correspondent saw.
Meanwhile, Indonesian parliament members continued Tuesday debating the government’s proposal. They are expected to vote later in the week to raise the subsidised fuel price by a third, from Rp 4,500 (49 cents) a litre to Rp 6,000 for private vehicles.
The proposal has been met with widespread opposition both by members of parliament and the public, who fear accelerating inflation.
But the government said that without the fuel hike and due to rising global fuel prices, the country’s budget deficit will exceed a three percent cap of the GDP stipulated in law.