Shots, tear gas at Indonesia protest

Indonesian police fired tear gas and warning shots to disperse protesters who took to the streets on Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of the swearing in of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

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More than 150 mainly student demonstrators blocked roads in the wealthy Menteng neighbourhood of central Jakarta with wooden planks, and attacked police who tried to remove them.

They hurled rocks and sticks at the riot police, who responded with tear gas and rifle fire into the air. Three people were taken into custody, and one man was shot in the leg, protesters said.

“They were pushing us away for several minutes when suddenly they opened fire. I heard 10 gunshots, the first into the air and the rest at us,” said 24-year-old student Adi.

“One student was shot in his right leg and was taken to hospital.”

One of the demonstrators shouted “this is the source of the mess in this country” as they set a poster of Yudhoyono alight.

“We had to fire tear gas to disperse the protesters as they set fire to the president’s poster,” Jakarta police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar said.

“We’ll take firmer action against them if they start to burn cars or buildings.”

Thousands of protesters took part in other anti-government rallies Wednesday in Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, Palu and Bogor, where students also reportedly clashed with police.

Almost 20,000 police were on standby in the capital to deal with any unrest, the Antara state news agency reported.

About 300 protesters gathered in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta, shouting “SBY has failed, SBY has failed”, using the president’s nickname.

“He has failed to eradicate corruption,” said Rudi Daman of a group called the People’s Defender Front.

Another protester, Yati Andriyani of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, said Yudhoyono had not honoured promises to protect human rights in the mainly Muslim country of 240 million people.

“They were only empty promises,” she said.

Demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails at police who reacted with tear gas in Makassar, South Sulawesi province, on Tuesday as Yudhoyono visited the town.

The president, a centrist ex-general, warned protesters to express dissent within the limits of the law and not to try to overthrow his fractious governing coalition of nationalist secular and Islamic parties.

“The democracy we all want is not one leading to a sea of slander and anarchy, which can damage the things that we have built,” Yudhoyono told Elshinta radio.

“As a country, the world will see whether a nation’s democracy is ethical and civilised or not.”

The president’s popularity rankings have slumped despite strong economic growth, amid rampant corruption and incompetence across all levels of state.

He was sworn in at the start of his second five-year term on October 20 last year, having won two clear mandates to get tough on graft and improve governance in the sprawling Southeast Asian archipelago.

But many analysts say he has proven to be too weak and indecisive to take on powerful vested interests, which have been likened to the “oligarchy” of elites that ran the country under late military strongman Suharto from 1967 to 1998.

Protesters were not allowed to bring animals to the rallies in Jakarta, after Yudhoyono expressed offence at the sight of a buffalo painted with his initials at a demonstration earlier this year.