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Workers walk out as government prepares for fuel-price protesters

Jakarta Globe - June 21, 2013

Dessy Sagita & Ezra Sihite – The head of Indonesia's largest labor union promised strikes that could paralyze the country as thousands of workers walked out on Friday and police prepared for widespread protests ahead of tonight's announcement of a fuel price hike.

"Nationally, we can manage the security level. We can also manage the demonstrations that appear across the nation," Coordinating Minister for Legal, Political and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto said on Friday.

Four water cannon and six armored vehicles have been mobilized to secure the Ministry of State-Owned Enterprises against any demonstrators crossing police lines, while hundreds of police officers and military personnel have been assigned to the area.

In the city's satellite industrial centers, thousands of workers downed tools to protest the government's plan to raise the price of subsidized fuel. Calls to companies in the Cikareng industrial area, near Bekasi, revealed that many workers had left work before Friday prayers.

Said Iqbal, president of the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Unions (KSPI), said on Friday morning the industrial areas in Bekasi, Cibitung and Cikarang, West Java, had been paralyzed after workers walked out en masse.

"There are so many military personnel and police officers guarding the demonstration here in Ejip, Hyundai, Lippo, Delta Silicon and MM 2100 in Cikarang Bekasi because it is expected that thousands of workers will close down the toll road to protest the fuel price hike," he said. Said said workers in Pulogadung and Karawang industrial zones would be joining the strike.

In Jakarta, Djoko said he empathized with protesters but warned that the law would be enforced against anyone hoarding fuel or provoking excessive protest. "Demonstrations are normal and understandable, but do not violate the regulations, such as the time limitation," he said. "And, please, refrain from committing violence."

The time limitation refers to a specified deadline, nominally 6 p.m., when protests are required to disperse. Police may afford some flexibility if circumstances warrant an extension. As the law is only sporadically enforced, in part due to the difficulty of doing so, it was unclear on Friday afternoon whether it would inhibit the scale of the weekend's anticipated protests.

"I believe the police officers will not use excessive force if the demonstrates are protesting orderly, it is a very stupid thing to do to use excessive force without any provocation," Said said.

Said emphasized that workers had to protest the increase in the fuel price because it would have a profound impact on their standard of living, pushing many into poverty.

"Laborers who are nearly poor will become absolutely poor with this price hike," he told the Jakarta Globe. "The increase of the minimum wage announced by the government earlier will become useless, and we reject the government's temporary direct cash assistance (BLSM) scheme because it was a political move created before the 2014 election and it will make the president and his party appear as Santa Claus."

If the government insisted on the fuel price hike, he said, workers in 200 districts across the country would continue demonstrating, while a national strike on August 16 would involve "10 million workers," the day before Independence Day.

At 5 p.m. on Friday, police were diverting traffic away from the Jakarta-Cikampek toll road due to the demonstration, while Muhammad Rusli, secretary general of The Confederation of Indonesian Workers Unions (KSPI), promised that protests would continue late into the night. "We will not stop asking the government to cancel the fuel price hike," he said.