Jakarta – Hundreds of angry street hawkers rioted yesterday in the Tanah Abang textile district, leaving one government building and five vehicles burnt, police said.
The run-in with the authorities was sparked when officials ordered them to move their stalls which were blocking the street, witnesses said. Street vendors have often been blamed for contributing to traffic congestion in central Jakarta.
The incident occurred as about 250 shops and a department store elsewhere in central Jakarta were damaged when fire swept through a shopping complex.
During the incident, eyewitnesses said that about 50 military personnel armed with rattan canes, shields and tear-gas canisters had to move in an cordon off the area before restoring order.
Seargent Suyatno from the Tanah Abang police post said around 300 hawkers got angry after the authorities intervened during late morning trading at the market, which is busier than normal ahead of Aidilfitri celebrations next month.
"They went to the sub-district office, which is about a kilometer from the market and burned down the building and about five officials' cars and one motorcycle," he said. Police said eight people were taken into custody for questioning in connection with the rioting, the latest in a wave of unrest to rock Indonesia in recent months.
Earlier this month, at least 10 people were arrested following a gang war in the same district.
Many residents had alleged that the gangs, which forced shop owners to pay them protection money, were backed by the military – a charge that senior officers have strongly denied.
Not far away, in the Pasar Baru district, police said that 250 shops, mostly textile and shoe outlets, and a department store belonging to the Matahari chain, were either destroyed or damaged when fire swept through a four-storey complex.
There were no reports of casualties from the blaze, which police said broke out at around 5.30 am on the second floor of the building. About 20 fire trucks were deployed to tackle the fire. By noon yesterday smoke was still billowing from the gutted Harco building, but the flames had been extinguished.
The Antara news agency reported that the fire was possibly sparked by a short-circuit on the second floor of the building but did not give further details.
It was the worst fire to break out this year in the Indonesian capital, which is home to about 10 million people.