15 Jul 2011

Growing civil unrest

Growing civil unrest

From February 1998, demonstrations began on university campuses, protesting against Suharto's re-election and calling for democratic reform. These continued, gathering momentum between March and May, in defiance of government bans. A series of student demonstrations in Jakarta, as well as in Medan, Yogyakarta, and Bandung in May led to clashes with police in which at least 12 students were killed and dozens injured. The students, who claimed their action was peaceful, were calling for the removal of President Suharto and protesting at the rise in fuel prices. The most serious rioting took place in Medan, the biggest city of Sumatra, where police fired live bullets at demonstrators. The riots, considered the worst since the beginning of the Asian economic crisis in 1997, were not confined to a university campus, but spilt on to the streets and became dominated by ordinary working-class Indonesians. Indonesia's official human-rights body later claimed the death toll exceeded 1,000.The demonstrations had followed the government's implementation of austerity measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund in return for its bailout of the failing economy.
Petrol prices had risen 71% and kerosene, used as a cooking fuel by the poor, had risen 25% as a result of the end of government subsidies. The disturbances had depressed the stock exchange and driven down the value of the Indonesian rupiah. The increase in fuel prices had further affected the transportation cost of basic commodities. The economic crisis had rendered most Indonesian companies technically bankrupt. Many were laying off employees, and it was this increasing desperation which appeared to be additionally fuelling the disturbances.

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