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Medan still tense as rioting spreads

Jakarta Post - May 7, 1998

Medan – Rioting spread to nearby towns yesterday as parts of the North Sumatran capital remained tense.

East Medan's Tebung commercial area was littered with glass and debris yesterday evening after scores of shops had earlier been looted and set on fire by hundreds of rioters.

In another part of the city looters broke into a car and motorcycle dealer showroom and dragged out 20 motorcycles and one car and burned them on the street.

By early evening an uneasy calm had descended in much of Medan but the central and eastern sections of the city were still tightly patrolled.

Bukit Barisan Military Command spokesman Lt. Col. Agus Ramadhan said he had not received any reports of fatalities during the riots. He also said the authorities had arrested 148 people for looting and rioting.

Coordinating Minister of Political Affairs and Security Feisal Tanjung in Jakarta condemned yesterday what he called the "anarchy" in Medan and warned that the government would crack down on rioters.

"The government will take measures against people involved in this mass destruction and looting," Feisal said before attending a cabinet meeting at the Bina Graha presidential office.

He added that the demonstrations had deviated from their original intent and had been exploited for criminal purposes, such as looting.

The riots broke after three days of student protests in Medan ended in sharp clashes with security personnel, leaving dozens injured.

Then on Monday evening, a mob gathered on Jl. Pancing near the Teachers Training Institute (IKIP) started smashing shop windows and burning cars. It is not known whether the mob consisted of students.

The rampage continued Tuesday and by yesterday afternoon had spread to nearby towns despite the fact that parts of Medan had quieted down.

Many people had apparently joined the mob to vent their frustration over Monday's announcement of fuel and electricity price increases.

Minister of Defense and Security/Armed Forces Commander Gen. Wiranto arrived in Medan late last night and immediately held a briefing with local police and military commanders.

Spreading violence

In the town of Lubuk Pakam, 37 kilometers south of Medan, angry mobs attacked and looted hundreds of shops. It is not clear what sparked the violence.

In Tanjung Morawa, Deli Serdang regency, 11 km south of Medan, hundreds of people looted the town's Mora supermarket. At least 10 nearby shops were also attacked by angry mobs.

Riots were also seen in other towns in the regency such as Petumbukan, Galang and Pantai Labu where at least one car was reported damaged.

Deli Serdang Military Commander Lt. Col. B. Sinuhaji told The Jakarta Post that the riots in the regency had actually began Tuesday and continued until yesterday afternoon.

"These are lootings. They did not have anything to do with politics or demonstrations, " he said.

A number of people have been questioned by the authorities following the incident, he said.

Bukit Barisan Military Commander Maj. Gen. Ismed Yuzairi told reporters that one helicopter, six armored vehicles and military personnel were put on alert at Medan's Banteng Square to anticipate further incidents.

Police had also closed off a toll road leading into Medan, fearing that people from neighboring towns might join in the riots.

Activity was slow at Medan's port of Belawan as many trucks carrying goods stayed off city streets because of the violence. Medan, Indonesia's third largest city, is the trading hub in a major palm oil, rubber and coffee producing region.

Medan, a city of some two million people, is western Indonesia's main commercial and commodity center.

Aggravating the situation further, a soccer match at Teladan Stadium between local team PSMS Medan and PSIS Semarang ended with spectators invading the field.

According to Antara, the match was only guarded by 20 police officers because other officers were busy in other parts of the city.