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Women lead rallies against violence

Jakarta Post - November 26, 1998

Jakarta – Birds and flowers featured in demonstrations on Wednesday as women took to the streets in several cities to mark the United Nations Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Students also urged an end to the "politics of violence," but 54 were hurt in rallies in Semarang.

Thousands of women condemned rape, sexual harassment, trafficking in women, domestic violence and violence by the state apparatus, including the shooting of students at the Semanggi Cloverleaf junction on Friday 13. They mingled with students continuing their rallies from previous days.

The United Nations Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women was born in commemoration of a shooting spree in Montreal, Canada, on Nov. 25, 1989, in which 14 female students lost their lives. Activists say the motive for the shooting was "gender jealousy" by a man angry with women encroaching on male-dominated studies.

From Semarang, Antara reported that 54 were injured during a an anti-military protest at the gate of the Diponegoro Regional Military Headquarters. The protest of 2,000 students included those grouped in the Semarang Students' Action Front (Kamus). The agency reported that during negotiations with security officers some students forced an empty truck to pass through the barricade five meters in front of them. The driver identified as Wiyono was forced to step on the gas and drive towards the barricade.

Angry officers then chased students and beat some of them including three volunteers of the Red Cross of the Semarang University. Military commander Lt. Col. CZI Sugeng Suryanto regretted the incident and said a demonstrator called Roberts, 23, was being questioned.

Earlier, 200 women and students handed out flowers to passersby. Grouped in Semarang Women's Solidarity for Reform, the women protested outside the Central Java council building in which they issued the same demands as their sisters in Jakarta.

In Jakarta, 500 women released pigeons at the Hotel Indonesia roundabout to symbolize peace. The demonstrators, who belonged to Solidaritas Perempuan (Women's Solidarity), Suara Ibu Peduli (Voice of Concerned Mothers) and a number of other groups, also distributed tuberoses Polianthus tuberosus, known locally sedap malam, to passersby.

Clothed in white, they paraded a large blue banner decorated with orchids and bearing the names of victims of violence around the country – particularly those form provinces designated as military operations zones.

Activist Debra Yatim, said: "I believe that it is not only women who feel sick about the level of violence here. Debra said the action in Jakarta coincided with simultaneous demonstrations in Surabaya in East Java, Lampung, East Timor, Ruteng in Flores, Mataram in Lombok, Denpasar in Bali and Samarinda in East Kalimantan.

In a statement, Solidaritas Perempuan condemned "militarism, violence, stigmatizing, discrimination and sexual terror as a way to maintain power. In Dili, the Timor Loro Sae Women's Movement Against Violence (Gertak) met with two women detained in connection with an incident at a military command in Alas, East Timor. The women being held in custody are Etelvina Maria Dias, 22 and Visentina Fernandes, 20.

A group of rebels allegedly attacked a military post in the area on Nov. 9. Three soldiers were killed and 13 more taken hostage. Eleven of the soldiers have since been freed or escaped. Gertak chairwoman Maria Olandina Alves and members Olsa Lemos, Teresina Cardoso and Nona Cormelita attended the meeting, with approval of East Timor Police chief Col. G.M. Timbul Silaen.

During a rally later in the day, Maria said the detainees appeared to have been treated well. "They talked without fear and asked us to tell their parents that they had not been abused," Maria said. The detainees deny involvement in the attack on the military post. Gertak members also distributed flowers and leaflets bearing the message: "A life without violence is the right of all. In Yogyakarta 15 women activists distributed flowers and leaflets at the entrance to Gadjah Mada University.

Meanwhile, six students from Sunan Kalijaga Islamic Studies Institute who had been on hunger strike since Monday received hospital treatment for severe dehydration on Wednesday. They were protesting the Armed Forces' (ABRI) dual function.

In Lampung, Antara reported that 20 students were camped out in the grounds of the legislature to demand that former president Soeharto face trial for corruption and human rights abuses.

In Bandung, hundreds of students protested at the city's main railway station in Kebonkawung. They demanded that Minister of Defense and Security/ABRI Chief Gen. Wiranto be held responsible for the shooting of students on Nov. 13.