Tomb protest turns bloody in Indonesia as police clash with demonstrators; 90 wounded

By Chris Blake, AP
Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tomb protest turns bloody in Indonesia capital

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Protesters wielding machetes, sticks and petrol bombs clashed with riot police in a series of running battles Wednesday over a Muslim cleric’s tomb near the Indonesian capital’s main seaport, wounding some 130 people.

Some of the injuries were severe, including an officer who had his stomach slashed and another whose hand was chopped off. It was Jakarta’s worst civil unrest in years.

About 2,000 city security officers and 600 police used tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons and batons to beat back the protesters near the seaport of Tanjung Priok in northern Jakarta, city spokesman Cucu Kurnia said. Police estimated the number of protesters at 500.

The demonstrators threw rocks and petrol bombs, setting fire to at least five police vehicles and destroying dozens of others.

An Associated Press photographer saw several protesters beaten by police and dragged away bleeding, including teenagers. Fist fights broke out and burning tires and cars sent a cloud of black smoke over the port.

The protesters believed city officials were trying to remove the tomb of an Arab cleric who helped spread Islam in North Jakarta in the 18th century. The tomb is located on land owned by the state-run seaports operator Pelindo II. The area is home to many squatters.

Local media reported at least two people were killed in the violence, and footage seen on Metro TV showed one security officer lying on the ground motionless with his stomach area blurred out.

Jakarta police spokesman Col. Boy Rafli Amar said reports of deaths were wrong.

“At least seven police were injured quite badly, and we still have not received complete information on how many protesters were wounded,” Amar said.

The demonstration began in the morning when hundreds of security officials showed up near the tomb with excavators. Kurnia denied the tomb was the target, saying the city wanted to remove illegal squatters nearby.

“We did not intend to demolish the tomb, but we want to evict the illegal settlers. In fact, the local government wanted to preserve or restore the tomb,” Kurnia said.

The protesters believed otherwise and attacked city officials, sparking running battles that lasted several hours. A second round of intense fighting broke out hours later outside the hospital where the wounded had been taken. By nightfall the clashes had stopped, but the situation was still tense.

Kurnia said authorities were surprised by the response of those living near the tomb.

“The mass anger was horrible and beyond our expectation for what was a simple case,” he said.

Kurnia said members of a hard-line Muslim group also were involved in the fighting.

“The locals were supported by a mass organization who outnumbered the locals by twofold,” he said.

Kurnia declined to name the group. He may have been referring to the Islamic Defenders Front, an organization with a long history of vandalizing nightspots, hurling stones at Western embassies, and torching buildings belonging to rival groups or sects it considers heretical.

Jakarta police chief Maj. Gen. Wahyono, who uses a single name, said 130 people were wounded, including 79 security forces. Kurnia said seven were in critical condition, including a security officer who had his stomach slashed open with a machete, and another whose hand was cut off.

A nurse who answered the phone at the local hospital where the wounded were being taken said she did not have the exact number of injured but that hospital rooms were packed with people bleeding and bruised. She hung up without giving her name.

Kurnia accused people upset over the land dispute of misleading people and using their religious beliefs to stir up violence.

Port officials said the loading and unloading of ships was not disrupted by the clashes.

Associated Press writers Irwan Firdaus and Ali Kotarumalos and photographer Irwin Fedriansyah contributed to this report.

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