Hundreds held in Indonesia as tempers flare on second day of protests

By Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Tabita Diela
JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian police arrested nearly 400 protesters, some armed with Molotov cocktails and sharp weapons, on Wednesday on a second day of heated demonstrations over a controversial new labor law in Southeast Asia's largest economy.
Demonstrations took place in at least 12 locations on Wednesday, during which police arrested 183 people outside Parliament in Palembang, South Sumatra, and interrogated more than 200 protesters in the capital Jakarta, the day after tear gas and water cannons were used to destroy the crowd to disperse in several cities.
The protesters are calling for the government to repeal an "omnibus" job creation law, which outraged unions who say it unilaterally benefits businesses and will harm workers and the environment.
Footage from the Javanese city of Semarang showed angry protesters pulling down the fence at the local parliament complex, while students in Jakarta and Bandung were throwing stones and burning tires.
The sweeping legislation was advocated by President Joko Widodo as key to boosting a coronavirus pandemic-hit economy by cutting red tape and attracting foreign investment.
Scientists from prominent universities expressed disappointment on Wednesday with a law they believed was problematic and likely to lead to judicial review.
Susi Dwi Harijanti, of Padjajaran University in Bandung, said the swift passage of the law "shocked everyone" because parliament was typically "slow to legislate, including those clearly needed by the people".
The largest Islamic organization in Indonesia, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), also weighed in. Its leader, KH Said Aqil Siroj, said it would only benefit capitalists, investors and conglomerates and "trample" the common people.
Chief Economy Minister Airlangga Hartarto tried to reassure protesters on Wednesday, saying many of their fears were based on false information.
"I can assure you that wages will not be cut," he said at a virtual press conference.
Other ministers have defended controversial regulations, including a land bank, saying the government will not take away farmers' land and the law will not weaken environmental protection.

(Additional reporting by Gayatri Suroyo; writing by Kate Lamb; editing by Ed Davies, Kenneth Maxwell, and Martin Petty)

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