Protests mount against fuel price hikes in Indonesia

May 13th, 2008 - 6:22 pm ICT by admin  

Jakarta, May 13 (DPA) Hundreds of angry students took to the streets in a number of Indonesian cities for a second day Tuesday to protest against a government plan to raise fuel prices and cut off subsidies. In the East Java district of Bojonegoro, dozens of university students clashed with police officers. A policeman was injured in the scuffle and two protestors were detained, the state-run Antara news agency reported.

In Malang city of East Java, student protestors briefly took hostage a truck carrying fuel, while in the adjacent district of Madiun, angry demonstrators forced their way into a local state-run radio station, demanding the operator air their voice of objection against the fuel price hikes.

In the capital Jakarta, hundreds of protestors, including activists from the Muslim hardline group Hizbut Tahrir, picketed outside the presidential palace, arguing that fuel price hikes would only bring more misery to the people.

“Reject any fuel price hikes,” shouted protestors, followed by “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is Great”.

Sparked by rising global oil prices, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signalled early this month that the government would raise fuel prices as high as 30 percent in order to safeguard the state budget.

The government also said it has prepared a scheme to cushion the price hike’s impact on the poor. Many Indonesians live on less than two dollars a day and are already suffering from the impact of high food prices.

Price hikes are a sensitive subject in Indonesia, the world’s fourth most-populous nation. In the past, subsidy cuts have led to social unrest and a big fuel price increase was the spark that triggered rioting that helped topple the late president Suharto in 1998.

The last time Indonesia raised the price of subsidised fuels was in October 2005.

More anti-government rallies took place in several other cities, including in Mamuju, where Yudhoyono arrived in the West Sulawesi province for one-day visit, as well as in Pekanbaru in eastern Sumatra, Semarang in central Java, and Makassar in South Sulawesi.

Yudhoyono, who rose to power in 2004 as the country’s first directly elected president, has little choice but to wean impoverished Indonesians off Asia’s cheapest gasoline and heavily subsidised kerosene used for cooking.

Government ministers have said that the planned fuel price increase will save the government 35 trillion rupiah ($3.8 billion) this year.

Indonesia is the only Asia-Pacific member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), but has turned into a net importer of crude in recent years due to sharply declining output.

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