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Students accuse police of brutality

Reuters - April 26, 1998 (abridged)

Medan – Five Indonesian students were taken away by what student leaders said were plain clothes security officials and two others were injured in escalating protests demanding President Suharto quit, witnesses said on Sunday.

The five were attending a campus meeting on Saturday in the north Sumatra city of Medan after a demonstration during which one student was injured by a rubber bullet and another by police batons, when the unidentified men took them away, the witnesses said.

"They were beaten by several men inside campus before they were taken away," one witness said.

The Students Association of the University of North Sumatra – one of many campuses around the country where students have been demonstrating for political and economic reform – issued a statement demanding that security forces release the five.

It also blamed police for the violence at the demonstration as some 500 of them pushed protesters back into the campus as they tried to take to the streets. The statement, issued on Sunday, also demanded an apology for the police action.

Witnesses said police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and used cane batons against students, who threw stones at them. They said one student was hit in the back by a rubber bullet and the other suffered head wounds from police batons. "I saw myself that police shot one of them and he was bleeding in the back. The other had head injuries from being hit by police canes," said one witness, who asked not to be named. Police in Medan were not immediately available for comment.

Earlier in the week, Medan students hurled Molotov cocktails at police in a serious escalation of protests on campuses around Indonesia that began in February.

The Jakarta Post said on Sunday a student had been shot in the hand during Friday's protest and quoted Medan police as saying they were investigating the incident. "We are still investigating who the shooter was. Shooting is not allowed at all in facing student demonstrations," it quoted a police spokesman as saying.

Protesters at two campuses in the city on Saturday were demanding police return two other students, missing after being beaten by police in an earlier protest, the newspaper said.

Most protests have been peaceful and police and security forces have tolerated them as long as the demonstrators remain on campus. But, increasingly, students around Indonesia appear ready to challenge the authorities by trying to take their protests on to the streets. In Jakarta on Saturday, police detained about 40 students for several hours after preventing some 500 protesters leaving the campus of the Ibnu Chaldun University.

There were other demonstrations and student meetings around Indonesia on Saturday. They were largely peaceful, according to media reports.

[The April 26 AFX-ASIA news service also reported that some 1,500 students from Jambi University tried to march on the local parliament and join students from another university. According to the Indonesian daily Kompas, police fired rubber bullets into the crowd, with one student fainting in the resulting stampede and another suffering a bullet wound. Neither required hospital treatment - James Balowski.]