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Thousands Rally in Indonesian Cities Against Fuel Price Hike at the Weekend

Thousands Rally in Indonesian Cities Against Fuel Price Hike at the Weekend.lelemuku.com.jpg

JAKARTA, LELEMUKU.COM - Thousands of people took to the streets of Jakarta and other Indonesian cities on Tuesday to protest a steep hike on subsidized fuel prices that the government imposed at the weekend, and threatened a nationwide strike if the administration did not reverse course.

In the nation’s capital, about 1,200 police officers were deployed to maintain order in Central Jakarta as some 3,000 demonstrators protested peacefully, a day after President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said Indonesians had the right to express dissent but without violence.

Similar rallies were held in Bekasi, Bogor and several other cities that drew about 2,000 additional protesters, according to authorities.

“The rise in fuel prices makes it hard for us to live decently,” Sugiono, who protested outside the Parliament building in Jakarta, told BenarNews.

On Saturday, Jokowi’s government bumped up fuel prices by about 30 percent, saying this was needed to reduce spending on fuel subsidies.

As he announced the hike, Jokowi said the subsidy budget had gone up more than three times, to 502.4 trillion rupiah (U.S. $33.7 billion), while global fuel prices had soared.

“Besides, we haven’t had a raise for two years, and there has been no discussion about a possible increase after the fuel price hike,” said Sugiono, who goes by one name, adding that the costs of transportation and basic necessities would increase as well.

These price increases for fuel are the first since 2014, when a 30 percent hike in prices at the pump led to nationwide protests and strikes by students and transportation operators. Citizens here see subsidized fuel as a public service obligation, according to a report by the Asian Development Bank.

Said Iqbal, leader of the Indonesian Labor Unions Confederation, urged lawmakers to take action because the hike could lead to layoffs as companies struggle with high costs of energy.

“They can form a special committee and use the right of inquiry. They should not just stop at rhetorical comments to the media,” Iqbal said.

Iqbal warned that workers across the country could hold a protest before the end of the year.

“At the start of December or the end of November, there will be a national strike to be observed by 5 million workers, all factory operations will stop,” he said.

“We have to say this because we have been silent for three years. Wages have not been increased. I believe the president’s heart is with the people,” he said.

On Monday, clashes between protesters and police erupted in Makassar, the main city in South Sulawesi, provincial police spokesman Komang Suartana said.

“Some protesters were carrying bows. We questioned four people. They have been returned to their families,” he told BenarNews.

That same day, Jokowi said street demonstrations were part of democracy, but called on protesters to remain peaceful.

“This is a democratic country. Do it in a good way,” Jokowi told reporters.

Meanwhile, in an act of protest against the hike on Tuesday, lawmakers from the opposition Prosperous Justice and the Democratic parties walked out during a parliamentary session to discuss the national budget.

“The increase in fuel prices means that people who are already struggling suffer more,” Democratic Party spokesman Herzaky Mahendra Putra said. “The government is not reducing the people’s burden, but is making it worse.”

Before imposing the hike, Jokowi’s administration said it was handing 600,000 rupiah ($40) in cash handouts to more than 20 million people to cushion the impact of higher fuel prices. (Nazarudin Latif / Pizaro Gozali Idrus | BenarNews)

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