Louise Williams, Jakarta – Armed soldiers fanned out across Jakarta today as a key labor leader threatened to launch a new wave of protests from Wednesday. Dr Muchtar Pakpahan called for a "reconciliation dialogue" between the Habibie Government and reform groups and the release of all remaining political prisoners.
Dr Pakpahan, head of the Indonesian Prosperity Trade Union, which was banned under the Soeharto Government, said he would begin with a small demonstration on Wednesday and gradually increase the numbers on the street until his demands were met. He said the changes under the new Habibie Government were "accelerated evolution", and fell far short of the "total reforms" demanded by students and other protesters who forced President Soeharto to step down last month.
Jakarta military command spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel D.J.Nachrowi, said the heavy presence of armed troops at many shopping centres, office buildings, public parks and along main roadways since the weekend was a deliberate attempt to ensure people that the city was safe.
"We just want to show that there's no riot and all the streets are safe. The troops will be deployed as long as the people need their presence," he said, refusing to link the deployment to any protest plans.
Over the weekend President Habibie told Australian journalists there would be no crackdown on demonstrations. But the chief of the Armed Forces and Defence Minister, General Wiranto, has warned against "exaggerated freedoms" and rumors which have been creating jitters in the capital.