Ahmad Junaidi, Jakarta – Dozens of people were injured and 12 were arrested as some 1,500 people who staged an anti-US rally in front of the House of Representatives building clashed with police officers on Monday.
The protesters were members of the Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI), the Surakarta Youth Islamic Front (FPII), Laskar Jundullah (God's Army) and Hisbullah Front (God's Party) from Jakarta, Surakarta, Tangerang and Lampung.
They arrived in several cars and motorcycles in front of the House building compound at about 10 a.m. Protesting the US attack against Afghanistan, and demanded the government to sever diplomatic relations with the US
The police, however, ordered them to disperse because Monday was a national holiday. Chief of City Police's VIP security division Sr. Comr. Aqil said that Law 9/1999 on public gatherings, bans demonstrations on national holidays.
The clash started after the police fired warning shots which were ignored. Hundreds of police officers then began to fire tear gas, water and blanks at the demonstrators, whereupon they fled. The officers proceeded to disperse the demonstrators, who ran to the Slipi area, and pushed them back with clubs. A police officer reportedly ran into some protesters with his motorcycle.
The police also struck several journalists, including two from Metro TV and Indosiar television stations, as well as one from Reuters, seizing their film and damaging their cameras. A Reuters' car and six others belonging to the protesters as well as five motorcycles were also damaged by the officers.
The situation calmed down as the demonstrators headed to the FPI headquarters on Jl. Petamburan, Central Jakarta, at about noon. But FPI members then started to attack police and military members. Two military members who happened to pass by the street on their motorcycles, were beaten, but they managed to escape.
After that incident, some 500 police officers were then deployed to the scene as the demonstrators continued to conduct raids on all the vehicles passing their area. Tension was heightened as police closed the road in front of the headquarters and insisted that non-Jakarta FPI members, who had arrived here on Saturday night, return home.
Some 50 military riot officers were also deployed to the scene while discussions between police and the FPI was conducted. The officers left at about 4pm after FPI members agreed to stop their attacks.
City Police chief Insp. Sofjan Jacoeb told reporters that stern action was taken because the demonstrators had broken the law. "If they want to conduct a rally again, it's okay. But they should not try to occupy the House building," he warned. He apologized for the damages caused by the officers and promised to compensate journalists for losses incurred in the melee.
The head of FPI, Habib Rizieq Husein said he would sue the police for breaking up the protest, claiming that he had a permit to conduct a two-month non-stop demonstration. Minister of Religious Affairs Said Aqil Al-Munawar visited the FPI headquarters at about 5pm to meet Rizieq and promised to listen to their needs.