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Homes of Chinese attacked by rioters

South China Morning Post - March 27, 1997

Agencies in Jakarta – Rioters attacked the homes of ethnic Chinese around a town in central Java yesterday during a rampage apparently sparked by a popular singer's switch of political allegiance.

"A number of houses belonging to the Chinese have been either damaged or burned," a Chinese man said by phone from Pekalongan, a coastal town about 300 kilometres east of Jakarta.

"It seems that the target is the Chinese, even though they have nothing to do with what has happened," another resident said.

Army chief General Hartono said at least 10 arrests had been made in the town. A stage prepared for a concert organised by the ruling Golkar party had been burned down, he said.

It had been razed on Monday after a dispute over civic authorities' removal of flags belonging to a political party, General Hartono said. He did not say which party the flags belonged to but it was widely believed to be the Muslim-led United Development Party (PPP).

The daily Suara Pembaruan said hundreds of people had attacked the stage area prepared for a concert by local singer Rhoma Irama, who joined Golkar last year after previously being a member of the PPP.

Residents said the singer was apparently now a Golkar candidate in May's parliamentary elections. The attackers, who used Molotov cocktails, according to the newspaper, burned the stage and wrecked seating. There were no casualties, General Hartono said.

Police said yesterday the situation was under control. Residents said police and troops were patrolling.

It was the first violence in Java since a mob attacked Chinese homes and businesses, Christian churches and Buddhist temples in the town of Tasikmalaya, in the island's west, in January. Four people died in those riots.

Residents in Pekalongan said people had also been angered over a rumour that a soldier had shot a PPP member. The official Antara news agency said 16 people had been questioned by the authorities over the burning.

Residents said graffiti denouncing the singer had been scrawled on many shops in Pekalongan.