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Anti-Suharto protesters arrested at parliament

Sapa - November 20, 1997

Cape Town – About 40 placard-bearing Cosatu members, protesting outside Parliament's main gates against the visit to South Africa of Indonesia's President Suharto, were arrested by police shortly before 11am on Thursday.

Slogans on their placards included: "Numsa Demands the Release of Xanana Gusmao"; "Workers to End Suharto's Genocide"; "Cosatu to Support the Struggle of Asian Workers"; and "Suharto to End Union Bashing Now".

The protesters stood in two groups across the street from the gates. They chanted "Viva Cosatu" as police, some wearing helmets, started mobilising outside Parliaments gates, next to the statue of the Union of South Africa's first prime minister, General Louis Botha.

Cosatu regional educator Anthony Dietrich told Sapa, "we have been told we cannot exercise our rights" because they had not had permission from the Cape Town City Council "to be here today". He said they were planning to peacefully remain standing where they were and were not threatening anybody.

They were waiting to see what action the police would take.

Were they to be arrested, their protest against human rights violations and trade union bashing in Indonesia would be underscored, Dietrich said. Shortly before 11am, police started moving in and firmly bundled the protesters into vans.

Captain Ian Pretorius of the SAPS' Public Order Unit, told Sapa the protesters were being arrested because they were contravening the 1993 Act on the Regulation of Gatherings, which prohibits placard demonstrations within 100 metres of Parliament or a court building by groups of more than 15. Their application to the Cape Town City Council for permission to demonstrate had been turned down.

Pretorius said the protesters were being taken to Cape Town's central police station to be charged.

As the vans pulled away, the protesters banged the sides.

At the same time a group of about 200 pro-Suharto supporters, mostly Muslim school-children, were let through the parliamentary gates to await the arrival of Suharto at Tuynhuys.

Many of the children were wearing red fezzes and waving miniature Indonesian flags.

A Western Cape police spokesperson, Superintendent Ciska du Plessis, later told Sapa 28 men and 10 women were being charged at the Cape Town central police station.

They were being released on a warning to appear in the Cape Town Magistrate's Court on Friday.

Suharto arrived at Tuynhuys shortly after 11am, where he was given full red-carpet treatment.

President Nelson Mandela, 16 Cabinet ministers and one deputy minister were on hand to greet him.

After the national anthems had been played and Suharto had inspected a guard of honour, Suharto and Mandela started face-to-face talks, during which Mandela was expected to renew a request for the release of East Timorese guerilla leader Xanana Gusmao.

About 50 Cosatu supporters on Wednesday protested outside the Indonesian Embassy in Pretoria.