Protests against new labor law turn violent across Indonesia
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - Protests in many Indonesian cities turned violent on Thursday as thousands of angry students and workers criticized a new law they said would cripple labor rights and harm the environment.
Stone-throwing protesters clashed with riot police near Jakarta's presidential palace as police tried to disperse the protesters, including workers and students.
President Joko Widodo is visiting Central Kalimantan Province and has not been to the palace.
Police fired tear gas at several high schools and universities protesters as they tried to approach the palace grounds, turning streets into smoke-filled battlefields. The demonstrators resisted and hurled stones and bottles.
An angry mob burned a traffic police station at an intersection near the palace while other protesters set tires and fiberglass roadblocks on fire. As night fell, some protesters set fire to a subway shelter in downtown Jakarta, turning the area an eerie orange color.
Similar clashes occurred in major cities across the country, including Yogyakarta, Medan, Makassar, Manado and Bandung, capital of West Java Province, where police arrested 209 people over two days of violent protests.
The organizers have called for a three-day national strike starting Tuesday, demanding the government repeal the legislation.
The job creation law passed by parliament on Monday is expected to transform Indonesia's labor system and natural resource management significantly. It amended 79 previous laws and was intended to improve bureaucratic efficiency as part of the Widodo government's efforts to attract more investment into the country.
Protesters say the law will harm workers by lowering severance pay, removing restrictions on manual labor by foreign workers, increasing the use of outsourcing and converting monthly salaries into hourly wages.
"We vow to keep getting back on the streets until the new law is repealed," said Andi Khiyarullah, a protest organizer for the student executive of the Indonesian Alliance.
Jakarta police also blocked the roads leading to parliament, preventing work groups from holding a mass rally there, and detained at least 200 students who tried to enter the premises, Jakarta police spokesman Yusri Yunus said.
"They were provoked through social media invitations to cause a riot in Jakarta," said Yunus.
Fear of a surge in coronavirus cases due to the protests grew as infection rates rise in many areas. Indonesia's confirmed deaths rose to 11,580 on Thursday, the highest number in Southeast Asia.
National COVID-19 Task Force spokesman Wiku Adisasmito expressed concern about "potential spreaders" in the crowd of protesters across the country, particularly in Jakarta, the center of the Indonesian outbreak.
"We remind you that we are still in a pandemic and there is a public health emergency," he said when pictures showed protesters in close proximity, many without masks and without social distancing.
The government reported Thursday that the total number of confirmed cases nationwide rose to 320,564, including 11,580 deaths. In Jakarta alone there were 83,372 cases with 1,834 deaths.
Indonesia, Southeast Asia's largest economy, is eager to attract foreign investors as the main driver of economic growth in a country where nearly half of its 270 million population is under 30.
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