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Indonesian students freed after protest

Reuters - April 28, 1998

Raju Gopalakrishnan, Medan – Indonesian authorities released 13 students Tuesday after detaining them over one of the most intense protests yet against President Suharto.

University of North Sumatra rector Chairuddin Lubis said police handed the students over to him and as far as he knew they were the only ones detained after a major demonstration in the town of Medan Monday.

Another 20 to 25 people detained after the protest, which riot police and soldiers ended with rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon spraying water dyed yellow, were not students, Chairuddin said. He did not know who they were, he added.

Police and army spokesman were not immediately available for comment.

The students were detained after troops lifted a blockade of the campus, allowing some 5,000 students to leave, in the early hours of Tuesday. They had blocked the exits to the campus after driving students back into it after a two-hour confrontation.

Monday, there were demonstrations at four campuses in Medan, which, for the moment, has become the focus of attention of protests around the country demanding that Suharto go.

Chairuddin said all the Medan rectors would meet on Wednesday to decide what to do about protests which security forces have tolerated as long as they remain on campus. They have cracked down on students trying to demonstrate in the streets.

Medan was calm Tuesday, a national holiday, but students planned to meet to chart their next step in a campaign for reform and the ouster of Suharto, who is 76.

Protests, sparked by Indonesia's worst economic crisis in three decades, began just before Suharto was re-elected in March to a seventh five-year term by a body he largely hand-picked.

The prime call at almost all the demonstrations has been for political and economic reform and for Suharto to step down to accept responsibility for a devastating economic crisis in which Indonesia's rupiah has lost some 70 percent of its value against the US dollar.