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More protests on the way, say students

Straits Times - January 7, 1999

Jakarta – Students from Java, Lampung and Bali issued a defiant New Year statement vowing to continue with demonstrations this year as a means to maintain pressure on the government, The Jakarta Post reported yesterday. In their statement, 18 student groups under the Front for Indonesian Youth Struggle (FPPI) also defended charges of growing radicalisation in the student movement.

They said that any such trend was merely a response to the government's clumsy handling of student protests and its unwillingness to take heed of the demonstrators' demands. "Student demonstrations are our way of making our stance and demands known to the government," a FPPI spokesman told reporters.

Responding to complaints made by the public that their protests caused traffic congestion, he said: "We would like to ask in return, why do students express themselves through demonstrations and even sacrifice their lives? "We do all that because the government ... has so far ignored us and our demands."

Many calls have been made for students to stop street rallies during Ramadan – a request which they have so far heeded. Leading Muslim figure Abdurrahman Wahid said students should stop demonstrating altogether, saying that it was enough to have brought down former President Suharto.

But others argue that the protests should continue. With an eye on the general election in June, the students maintained that they must keep up the pressure on the government to ensure that the public is not "hoodwinked" by attempts that might be made to favour government candidates at the polls.

"How can the election be trusted ... if the political Bills are deliberated without the involvement of the true forces in politics?" the students said in their statement. They added that Indonesians must remember that existing legislative bodies were put in place by Mr Suharto's New Order administration.

[On January 6, Reuters reported that thousands of factory workers rallied in Surabaya to demand higher wages, throwing firecrackers at passing cars. Workers were demanding wage increases and bigger bonuses for the Eid al-Fitr celebrations at the end of the Moslem fasting month. There were no reports of arrests or injuries - James Balowski.]