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Soldiers fire in the air to quell protests

Reuters - June 15, 1998

Jim Della-Giacoma, Jakarta – Indonesian troops fired in the air to disperse rowdy protesters in Central Java on Monday after they stoned shops, residents said.

They said the protest began as a peaceful demonstration to demand that the local mayor resign.

Defying an appeal by Indonesia's powerful military chief General Wiranto last week for people to stop demanding resignations of government officials, protesters have taken to the streets with such calls across the nation's most populous island of Java.

Indonesians have been using their new-found freedom since the resignation of former president Suharto last month to push a wide range of long-suppressed claims against government officials accused of corruption.

"The protesters want the mayor of Tegal and the regent of Tegal to resign," a shopkeeper in the town of Adiwarna in the Tegal regency told Reuters by telephone in what has become a familiar refrain in the country.

"In the past the protests have been done by university students, but today I think they were just common criminals out for a bit of looting," the shopkeeper, describing Monday's most violent incident, said.

"Fortunately, the soldiers of the 407 Battalion stationed near the town deployed quickly, firing in the air to disperse the protesters who were throwing stones at shops," she said, adding that perhaps more than a dozen people had been detained.

Police in Adiwarna, about 10 km (six miles) south of the town of Tegal confirmed the incident but declined to provide details. "It was only a small disturbance. Everything's under control now," a policeman on duty said.

Residents in the Tegal regency, about 250 km (150 miles) east of Jakarta, said rumours had been building in recent days that there would be big protests against the two government officials on Monday. Businesses had closed down paralysing the town of 150,000 people, they said.

The official Antara news agency said students at Pancasila Sakti University in Tegal, who have been protesting in recent weeks calling for the regent and mayor to resign, were not involved. It said one person was reported injured in the incident.

However, it quoted the university's rector as saying the campus was attacked and damaged on Monday morning by an unknown crowd of people who arrived on trucks. Antara said troops and police had since been deployed at street corners and the city was tense but calm.

In the capital Jakarta, the almost daily protests against alleged US interference in Indonesia's domestic affairs continued with about 100 people. Other small protests in the capital included a rally by eastern Indonesian residents at the Interior Ministry demanding the removal from office of the East Nusa Tenggara governor, a protest against the leadership of the ruling Golkar party and a Christian demonstration at parliament calling for the repeal of religious laws.

Indonesian youths also demonstrated in front of the Foreign Ministry in support of the integration of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor into Indonesia. Troops with batons had broken up a demonstration by anti-Indonesian East Timorese students at the ministry on Friday.

Surabaya, Indonesia's second city and capital of East Java, was also beset by a number of protests, including one involving thousands of workers from the Tanjung Perak port calling for high wages. Other protests in Surabaya included a demonstration by students outside the local attorney-general's office calling for Suharto to be held to account for his actions during 32 years in office, the freeing of prisoners and lower food prices.