Graft protesters clash with Indonesia police
Top officials face rising demands to halt corruption
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Students threw rocks at police who retaliated with tear gas and water cannons during one of several rallies across Indonesia yesterday to demand government action to end widespread corruption among politicians, police, and other public officials.
More than two dozen rallies - annual events in this Muslim-dominated nation to mark International Anticorruption Day - were planned for the national capital of Jakarta and several of Indonesia’s other large cities. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is under pressure to act after winning reelection in July on promises of stamping out graft.
Scores of students armed with rocks and wooden planks clashed with antiriot police and vandalized commercial buildings at a rally in Makassar, the South Sulawesi provincial capital 1,000 miles northeast of Jakarta.
Police fired tear gas canisters and water cannons to break up the crowd after protesters tried to storm the provincial governor’s office. There was no immediate report of injuries or arrests among the 2,000 protesters.
“We want the government not only talking about eliminating corruption,’’ said Amang Wijaya, a 19-year-old student in Makassar. “But we want the government really prosecuting officials who are making the country bankrupt.’’
In Jakarta, a city of 13 million, a dozen rallies caused downtown traffic chaos.
Thousands marched peacefully to the presidential palace, some burning pictures of Yudhoyono, Vice President Boediono, who goes by one name, and Finance Minister Sri Mulyani.
They called on Yudhoyono to address the crowd, but the president had left Jakarta for a meeting in Bali.
Hundreds of antiriot police stood outside his palace.
“Today’s rally’s aim is not to attack politically any party,’’ said protest organizer Usman Hamid. “We just want to send a message to our fellow countrymen . . . that justice cannot be served while corruption is still rampant in our country.’’
Besides Jakarta and Makassar, large rallies were also staged in nearly a dozen towns and cities across the archipelago.
Yudhoyono’s popularity has already been tested by scandals surrounding Indonesia’s antigraft commission and a $715 million government bailout of a bank. Earlier this week, he told The Jakarta Post that he believed the protests were partly aimed at destabilizing his government.
“My logic says these political movements want to discredit, shake, and topple me in the short term,’’ the newspaper quoted him as saying Monday.
Yudhoyono said late Tuesday in a nationally televised speech that he would play a leading role in the fight against corruption.
However, he faces questions over the last year’s bank bailout, which critics have alleged was full of irregularities. Indonesian lawmakers last week launched an inquiry into allegations that the bailout benefited Yudhoyono’s reelection campaign. He has denied that.
His vice president and finance minister have also denied allegations of wrongdoing.