JAKARTA: At least six people were killed as Indonesia’s capital erupted in violence when police clashed with protesters opposed to the re-election of President Joko Widodo.
Police sirens blared as fresh skirmishes broke out on Wednesday evening with thousands of protesters chanting and waving Indonesian flags in the heart of the capital.
Some hurled stones and fireworks at riot police who lined up behind a razor wire barricade near the election supervisory agency building.
Earlier, dozens were arrested and parts of Jakarta were littered with debris and burned-out cars, as the violence triggered security advisories from the US and Australian embassies.
Authorities also restricted access to some social media in a bid to stop rumours and fake news from spreading online.
National police chief Tito Karnavian said six people had died, but denied authorities had fired live rounds on protesters, and called for calm. “Some had gunshot wounds, some had blunt force wounds but we still need to clarify this,” he told reporters.
Jakarta’s Governor Anies Baswedan said on Wednesday morning that about 200 people had been injured.
The violence came after Indonesia’s election commission on Tuesday confirmed Widodo had beaten retired military General Prabowo Subianto for the presidency in a poll held on April 17.
Subianto has said he would challenge the results in court — as he did, unsuccessfully, against Widodo in 2014 — but also warned his claims of widespread cheating could spark street protests.
That was borne out early on Wednesday as protesters set market stalls and cars on fire while hurling fireworks and rocks at security personnel clad in riot gear and holding shields, a reporter on the scene said.
Authorities blamed the violence on paid “provocateurs”, citing money-filled envelopes found on some of the 257 demonstrators who had been arrested.
The early morning clashes started after several thousand Subianto supporters rallied peacefully on Tuesday evening.
On Wednesday, roads were blocked off in parts of the sprawling metropolis — with some shopping malls, businesses and schools also closed as small groups of protesters engaged in skirmishes with police.
“I open myself to anyone who wants to develop this nation, but I won’t tolerate anyone who tries to disrupt public security, the democratic process or the unity of our... country,” Widodo said at a press briefing, flanked by chief of the security ministry and head of the military.
Subianto repeated calls for supporters to avoid violence. “We support people’s constitutional rights [to protest] as long as they are civilised, peaceful and non-violent,” he told reporters.
Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2019