Three dead in worst Indonesian violence for years

Hundreds of Indonesian protesters massed around the city hall of Jakarta this morning to demand the public security force be disbanded following bloody clashes between police and demonstrators yesterday which left three dead and at least 156 wounded.

Over 1000 police were deployed to the area to maintain calm, and protesters contented themselves with chanting “God is Great” and throwing rocks at pictures of the city’s governor.

On Wednesday, up to 1000 residents of the Tanjung Priok area, armed with machetes, clubs and petrol bombs fought running street battles with riot police over the sacred tomb of an 18th century Muslim cleric. An early stand-off led to chaotic scenes of violence, with men on both sides filmed beating bloodied opponents.

President Yudhoyono immediately ordered an investigation into the worst civil unrest for decades in the capital, which left one police officer with his hand sliced off.

The riots began over an apparent misunderstanding over the fate of the tomb of Habib Hasan bin Muhammed Al Hadad, a revered Arab cleric known to Indonesians as Mbah Priok.

Shortly after dawn members of the public order branch of the police, known as Satpol, arrived to evict squatters and remove illegal buildings on the land surrounding the tomb.

But residents of Tanjung Priok port, where the tomb is located, believed the police and city officials were there to tear it down and attacked them, spurring running battles that lasted for several hours.

Around 2,600 police and security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons and batons to beat back the protesters who retaliated with rocks and petrol bombs.

Television footage showed chaotic scenes. Satpol officers armed with shields and batons were filmed repeatedly beating a resident, while other images showed residents kicking and throwing rocks at an injured police officer lying on the ground.

A reporter said he saw several protesters, including teenagers, being beaten by police and dragged away bleeding.

By nightfall the situation was so tense that 500 security forces had to be evacuated to a nearby police station because leaving by road was seen to be too dangerous.

Just after midnight, with the rioters’ numbers swollen to 1000, they attacked and set fire to five police cars parked outside a hospital where the injured had been taken, and patrolled the surrounding hills searching for wounded policemen.

“The mass anger was horrible and beyond our expectation for what was a simple case,” said Jakarta city spokesman Cucu Kurnia.

He said seven of the 130 wounded were in critical condition, including a security officer who had his stomach slashed open with a machete and another whose hand was cut off.

Mr Kurnia insisted the officials and police were not there to destroy the tomb.”We did not intend to demolish the tomb, but we want to evict the illegal settlers,” he said.

Both sides blamed the other for the violence. Demonstrators claimed that Satpol officers targeted two teenagers who broke from their ranks, while police claimed the protesters attacked first.

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