Thursday, 29 March 2012

Indonesia: Riots over fuel prices

Indonesians riot over fuel price-rise plan
Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of rock-throwing Indonesians protesting at plans to push up fuel prices by more than 30 per cent. Several people were injured and rushed to hospitals.

29 March, 2012.

Rallies were held under tight security in big cities all over the country as Parliament debated the increase.

Some legislators said the Government had no choice but to cut budget-busting fuel subsidies, which have for years enabled motorists to fill up for roughly 65c per litre.

With global oil prices surging, most Indonesians realise there's little choice. But that hasn't stopped thousands in a nation of 240 million, many of whom live in abject poverty, from taking to the streets every day for the past week.

If a price increase is approved, it will go into effect on Monday.

Security was especially tight in the capital, Jakarta.

"We reject the fuel hike plan," protest leader Akhmad Suhaimi, told a cheering crowd gathered in front of the palace. The cost of everything from food and transportation to electricity will go up, he shouted. "It's the poor that are going to suffer most."

Most demonstrations were peaceful. But in Jakarta and Makassar thousands of protesters blocked off streets, set fires and pelted police with rocks.

The demonstrators - many of them students swinging big bamboo sticks - were eventually dispersed with tear gas and water cannons.

The price of crude oil has jumped from US$75 a barrel in October to nearly US$110 recently, in part due to growing concern a military strike by Israel or the US against Iran's nuclear facilities would disrupt global crude supplies.

Subsidies, put in place in Indonesia and many other Asian countries decades ago to make fuel affordable for the poor, eat up 20 per cent of the national budget. Analysts say that money would be better spent on infrastructure, education, and health.

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