JAKARTA: Riot police fired tear gas at stone-throwing protesters as fresh protests erupted across Indonesia Monday (Sep 30), sparked by a raft of divisive legal reforms including a law that could weaken the anti-graft agency.
At least two students have died and hundreds more were injured as unrest swept across the Southeast Asian archipelago, just weeks before President Joko Widodo kicks off a second term as head of the world's third-biggest democracy.
In the capital Jakarta, some 26,000 police and soldiers were deployed while large crowds - including placard-carrying students and factory workers - chanted for change near parliament, which was barricaded with barbed wire.
Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd of students, activists and union members as they sought to reach parliament in Jakarta on Monday and blocked part of a road.
In another location, police also shot tear gas at protesters who then ran towards a commuter rail line to avoid the gas, forcing the closure of a station, according to a video carried by news portal Detik.com.
Police said they fired tear gas after protesters refused to disperse and threw rocks, bottles and fireworks at officers, according to the state Antara news agency.
A Twitter account that tracks the protests @AksiLangsung (direct action) said tear gas was fired although the crowd was dispersing. It posted tips on how to handle tear gas earlier in the day.
Student protesters have been using social media to coordinate their actions, including to raise money on a crowdfunding platform.
"We are raising our voices again. (We) cannot do it just once, because parliament is deaf," read a placard being held up by one protester who had climbed a tree.
More than 20,000 police and military personnel were deployed to maintain security in the capital, according to media.
Students also staged protests in the cities of Yogyakarta and Solo in central Java.
Sandi Saputra Pulungan, an activist with the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said the protests would continue until all of their demands were met.
"We see that in Indonesia, our democracy is in danger. It's as though we're not in a democracy, but rather we are returning to the era of the New Order," Pulungan said, referring to the 32-year rule of the late president Suharto, who used the army to maintain tight control and contain opposition.
A list of student demands has been circulated on social media, which alongside opposing the new laws, includes stopping forest fires and removing a heavy military presence in the restive easternmost area of Papua.
The demonstrations have been fuelled by a proposed Bill that includes dozens of legal changes - from criminalising pre-marital sex and restricting contraceptive sales, to making it illegal to insult the president and toughening the Muslim-majority country's blasphemy law.
At a closing meeting on Monday, parliament officially agreed to delay to its next term a vote on the criminal code Bill. A new parliament will be sworn in on Tuesday.
Lawmakers had rushed to finish debate on a number of Bills in their final days in session, including passing into law a Bill governing the anti-corruption agency, known as the KPK, which activists say hurts its capacity to fight graft.
The protests are among the biggest student rallies since mass street demonstrations in 1998 toppled the Suharto government.
More than a thousand demonstrators were on the streets in Bandung on Java island, where a female protester held a sign saying: "What is in our pants is none of the government's business".
"I decided to join the demonstrations after I heard about the death of university students and that some were attacked by tear gas," said Banyu Biru, a Bandung student still dressed in his high-school uniform.
"That's just absurd - is this how the police protect the people?"
Passage of the controversial reforms has now been delayed.
"PULL THEM OUT"
Widodo has also said he would consider revising a separate Bill that critics fear would dilute the powers of Indonesia's corruption-fighting agency, known as the KPK.
"Why is this law being changed?" said Lukmanul Hakim Ahbr, a 24-year-old Indonesian who said he returned from his studies in neighbouring Malaysia to join the protests.
"We students... reject any revision that will weaken the KPK," he added.
Protesters have also demanded troops be pulled from Indonesia's restive Papua region, where fresh violence killed more than 30 people this month.
They are also demanding a probe into the deaths of two university students on Sulawesi island last week, including one who was shot during the anti-government protests. The police said they are investigating, but denied responsibility.
At the rally in Bandung, high school teacher Iwan Hermawan was keeping a close eye out for his students.
"If any students join this rally and engage in violence I'll immediately pull them out," he told AFP.
On Monday, scuffles broke out between authorities and some 2,000 university students on Lombok, an island next to Bali where hundreds also rallied.
Ahead of Tuesday's inauguration of hundreds of members of parliament, Indonesia's chief security minister Wiranto - who goes by one name - warned that any bloodshed would not be tolerated.
"I'm reminding protesters not to engage in violence or disrupt the inauguration of new lawmakers," the minister told a press briefing.
Officials have portrayed the protests as being hijacked by agitators aiming to disrupt government - and suggested they were similar to May's deadly post-election riots that paralysed Jakarta.
Updating Indonesia's criminal code, which dates back to the Dutch colonial era, has been debated for decades but there was a renewed push this year backed by conservative Islamic groups.