Jakarta: Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at stone-throwing protesters in Indonesia on Monday, as thousands demonstrated nationwide against the government’s plan to increase fuel prices.
Several people were injured in the clashes which came as lawmakers at the national parliament in the capital Jakarta were set to approve budget amendments that will pave the way for the first fuel hike since 2008.
Fuel prices have long been a flashpoint issue in Indonesia, with economists arguing that huge government subsidies are damaging Southeast Asia’s top economy.
However, millions are opposed to lowering the payouts, which keep down the cost of living, and huge protests have in the past forced the government to abandon attempts to raise the fuel price.
Five protesters, a journalist and seven policeman were injured during clashes in the city of Ternate, in the eastern Maluku islands, said national police spokesman Agus Rianto.
A 2,000-strong crowd hurled sticks and rocks at police, who responded by firing rubber bullets at the demonstrators, he added. An AFP reporter at the scene said police also fired tear gas.
In Jambi, a city on Sumatra island, hundreds of protesters tried to push through the gate in front of the local legislature, provincial police spokesman Almansyah said.
“The situation became somewhat chaotic and the police had to fire tear gas to disperse them,” said the spokesman, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
Nobody managed to enter and the situation was under control, he added. A male journalist was hit near the eye by a tear gas shell casing and was receiving hospital treatment, the spokesman said.
Outside the parliament in Jakarta, some 3,000 protesters set fire to tyres and waved banners that read “Reject the fuel price rise” and “hang SBY” (President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono).
“Get ready to occupy the parliament building if they raise the fuel price,” shouted one protester through a loudspeaker.
About 19,000 police and military personnel were deployed across Jakarta, police said.
While only a small percentage of Indonesians are private car owners, the plan to increase the price of petrol by 44 per cent is expected to push up the cost of everyday goods as they will be more expensive to transport.
The state budget amendments will provide financial assistance to poor households likely to be hardest hit by a fuel hike, paving the way for Yudhoyono to announce an increase.
Such sessions in parliament’s lower house can drag on for hours but if the measures are approved as expected, Yudhoyono could announce an increase as early as Monday evening.