Airport closed in violent rally

Protests across the archipelago turned violent on Monday, culminating in the storming of Polonia International Airport in Medan, North Sumatra, which disrupted flights and left hundreds of passengers stranded.

Thousands of protesters cordoned off the country’s fourth-busiest airport for five hours on Monday afternoon, demanding that the government abolish a plan to raise fuel prices that is slated to come into
effect on April 1.

One activist, Mantono, 26, was rushed to hospital after he was hit in the chest with a rubber bullet fired by riot police, who were backed by the Indonesian Military (TNI).

Authorities fired shots and used tear gas to disperse the crowd after protestors tried to force their way into the airport’s building to occupy the runway.

“The stern measures were justifiable as the protesters were getting violent. They wanted to take over the airport, which is a vital facility, which may have risked passenger safety,” North Sumatra police chief Ins. Gen. Wisjnu Amat Sastro said.

The chairman of the Islamic Students Association’s (HMI) Medan chapter, Erwin Hidayat, said students and members of mass organizations would hit the streets in larger numbers this week to force the government to rule out raising fuel prices.

State airport operator PT Angkasa Pura II, which oversees Polonia International Airport, said no flights were rerouted during the five-hour shutdown, but the true cost of the closure was not yet known.

“It’s just devastating. Several of our facilities were ransacked. We haven’t calculated the losses yet,” Angkasa Pura II general manager Bram Bharoto Tjiptadi said.

The airport, in the country’s third-biggest city after Jakarta and Surabaya, mostly serves routes to and from major cities not only in Indonesia but also in Malaysia and Singapore. Most businesses owned by Chinese-Indonesians in Medan also closed down out of fear of riots and looting.

In Bandung, West Java, four activists were injured after police took strong action against protesters who allegedly tried to occupy the governor’s office.

Members of several labor unions also joined the rally and have pledged to launch more aggressive protests until March 30.

“This is just the start. We’re going to get tougher in the coming days,” chairman of the Indonesian Labor Union’s (SBSI) Bandung chapter, Ajat Sudrajat, said.

In Makassar, South Sulawesi, protesters blocked roads by burning used tires and forced gas stations to shut down.

Wirabuana military commander Maj. Gen. Muhamad Nizam, who oversees Sulawesi, said he deployed 8,000 personnel to secure vital facilities, such as airports, seaports and gas stations from being taken over by protesters ahead of the planned hike in fuel prices.

Protesters in Makassar have been among the country’s most militant, with a penchant for torching vehicles and buildings.

The government plans to raise fuel prices by around 30 percent to keep the state budget healthy, as soaring global oil prices have strained the state coffers’ ability to pay for subsidies aimed at keeping fuel prices below the market price.

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