Protesters torch police posts as opposition mounts to new Indonesia law

Protesters torch police posts as opposition mounts to new Indonesia law

Protesters add a bicycle to a burning metro station
Protesters add a bicycle to a burning metro station during a rally in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Oct 8, 2020. (Photo: AP/Achmad Ibrahim)

JAKARTA: Protesters set fires to police posts, metro stations and barricades in Jakarta on Thursday (Oct 8) night as opposition mounted to a controversial new investment law critics say will harm labour rights and the environment.

Tens of thousands of people have protested in cities across the archipelago since Monday's passing of the Bill, which seeks to attract foreign investment by cutting red tape around taxation, labour and environment regulations.

Labour activists and green groups have slammed the legislation, however, with Amnesty International saying it is "catastrophic" for workers.

Nearly 13,000 police officers were deployed on Thursday to block access to government buildings in central Jakarta failed to stop protesters from making their way to the heart of the capital.

Tear gas was fired near the presidential palace in Jakarta on Thursday afternoon, with clashes erupting at around 2pm.

Some protesters burned tyres, vandalised bus stops and dismantled partitions of a construction site while others were seen smashing bricks and concretes into smaller pieces to be hurled at the police. 

READ: Tear gas fired near Jakarta palace as protests against new jobs law in Indonesia enter third day 

At 4pm, more tear gas was fired as police tried to push protesters back from their original positions. 

Black smoke rose across the capital late Thursday afternoon and into the night, with protesters burning public transport facilities and damaging police posts.

The operator of Jakarta's MRT rail network said underground stations had been closed.

Indonesia protest fires
A man throws a bicycle into a fire during a nationwide strike against a new law which critics fear favours investors at the expense of labour right and the environment in Jakarta on Oct 8, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Adek Berry)

Police had banned the protests on the grounds it could spread the coronavirus. At least 300,000 people have been infected in the world's fourth most-populous nation so far, and more than 11,000 have died.

Experts believe the true figures are much higher, however, but hidden by a lack of testing.

PROTESTERS WITH CORONAVIRUS

Jakarta police spokesman Yusri Yunus said around 1,000 protesters had been tested since being detained by Thursday.

A total of 34 protesters were "reactive for COVID-19", he said, adding they would be isolated and tested again.

Workers and students also clashed with police in Makassar, Medan, Malang and Yogyakarta.

"We want the law to be cancelled," Muhammad Sidharta told AFP in Bandung, West Java, adding the regulation "hurts Indonesian people, not only workers like me".

Although enforcement is sometimes patchy, Indonesia has tough labour laws - particularly involving foreign companies.

Indonesia protest tear gas
A protester runs from tear gas launched by police during a nationwide strike against a new law which critics fear favours investors at the expense of labour right and the environment in Jakarta on Oct 8, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Adek Berry)

Edi, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name, said he joined protests in Makassar on Sulawesi island because the law affected him as a worker.

"Earlier, we already had regulations on minimum wage but still many companies did not comply with it," he said.

"The new law scraps the regulations on that and companies will determine wages arbitrarily."

Indonesians also expressed their anger online, with hackers blocking access to parliament's website and changing its name to "Council of Traitors".

They also created an account on the Indonesia e-commerce platform Tokopedia and put parliament "on sale" for a pittance, according to media reports.

Source: AFP/ec

Bookmark