The following update is from Sherry Panggabean of the Center for Disaster Risk Management and Community Development Studies (CDRM&CDS), located in Medan, Indonesia. This program is sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation. In particular I would lift up her request for prayers on behalf of the people of Indonesia during this time of political turmoil. For possible petitions see the ELCA Worship prayer resource Violence. (pdf)

Dear all,

The Government of Indonesia plans to raise fuel prices by around 30 percent to keep the state budget healthy, as soaring global oil prices have strained the state coffers’ ability to pay for subsidies aimed at keeping fuel prices below the market price. The plan that is slated to come into effect on April 1 had caused protests across the nation this week, starting from Monday 26.3.2012.

On Tuesday 27.3.2012, the National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Saud Usman Nasution confirmed that 40,800 protesters taking part in 127 demonstrations spread out in the capital, East Java, West Java, South Sulawesi, and North Sumatra. The protesters come from various backgrounds, include supporters of political parties, university students, worker union members, fishermen and many more.

In Medan, since Monday thousands of people from have rallied at several locations across the city demanding the government to abolish the plan. It turned violent at one point, culminating in the storming of Polonia International Airport, which disrupted flights and left hundreds of passengers stranded. Medan is Indonesia’s third-biggest city after Jakarta and Surabaya, and the airport mostly serves routes to and from major cities not only in Indonesia but also in Malaysia and Singapore. On Monday and Tuesday (26-27 March), most main streets, except around the rallies areas, were empty and most business owned by Chinese-Indonesians in Medan also closed down out of fear of riots and looting.

In Jakarta, a large crowd of student and labor demonstrators outside the House of Representatives attempted to tear down the House fences on Thursday 29.3.2012, before a police line dispersed them using tear gas. Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Rikwanto said the majority of protesters were expected to march in front of the House building as lawmakers deliberated the 2012 Revised State Budget today (Friday 30.3.2012). He added, “We will deploy 1,900 security officers, including 300 soldiers, with two Baracuda armored-vehicles and two water cannons for the House complex. As of now 22,000 officers are already prepared to face the uncertain situation.” Furthermore, he confirmed that officers will use any means necessary, including strong measures such as the use of firearms, should the situation become chaotic.

On Thursday, police and and students were involved in a violent clash on Jl. Diponegoro after students started to burn tires during a day-long rally held by students of the Indonesian Christian University (UKI) and the Indonesian Persada University (UPI-YAI) in front of their campuses in Salemba, Central Jakarta. The students had been provoking police and were enraged when one activist was detained. They then stormed a police post on Jl. Dipongoro, demanding the student’s release. Tensions heightened in the evening, when a police car was trapped in a traffic jam before being ambushed and set alight by students blockading Jl. Diponegoro in front of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) office. Protesters have been using the office as a kind of transit place. The clashes ended at about 9:45 p.m. after the students retreated to their campuses while the police reopened Jl. Diponegoro.

In Makassar, South Sulawesi, protesters blocked roads by burning used tires and forced gas stations to shut down. Protesters in Makassar have been among the country’s most militant, with a penchant for torching vehicles and buildings. Clashes between protesters and police took place at different locations. Even more, these protesters ransacked fast food restaurants. Wirabuana military commander Maj. Gen. Muhamad Nizam, who oversees Sulawesi, said he deployed 8,000 personnel to secure vital facilities, such as airports, seaports and gas stations from being taken over by protesters ahead of the planned hike in fuel prices.

This has reminded me of the situation prior the fall of Suharto in 1998. As history has shown, such policies contain extreme political risks, including the potential for violent rallies that may harm the position of the ruling government.

Please pray that there will be no chaos in this country.


Sherry Panggabean