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Police, Mob Clash in Jakarta

May 13, 2000

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ Police fired tear gas and warning shots at angry mobs of people in Chinatown on Saturday in clashes that began when officials tried to remove street vendors from the area’s crowded sidewalks, authorities said.

As the first mob fled the police assault, it threw rocks that broke the windows of a McDonald’s restaurant and a BMW dealership, and set fire to at least one police motorcycle, authorities said.

Dozens of people were taken away in police vans, and four arrested, said police officer Pramono, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

Twenty policemen were injured, said police chief Col. Guliansyah, and many of the shops in Chinatown closed to avoid the violence. Hundreds of police lined the streets after the mob fled.

By midday, the area reopened to traffic and pedestrians, but police remained on the scene.

About two hours later, another rock-throwing mob formed and police fired tear gas in violence that closed Chinatown again. At least six people were injured and seen being taken away in ambulances.

The clashes took place two years after a student-led, pro-democracy movement’s massive protests and riots forced President Suharto to resign. Some of that violence targeted Indonesia’s wealthy but small Chinese minority, especially in Chinatown, where a shopping mall was burned down.

But police said the dispute Saturday did not seem to involve animosity between Indonesia’s majority Muslims and minority Chinese.

On Friday, hundreds of students clashed with police outside Suharto’s home in Jakarta in a protest demanding that he be convicted and punished for alleged corruption during his 32 years in power. But there didn’t seem to be any connection between that violence and Saturday’s.

Pramono said the Chinatown clashes began when officials tried to clear the sidewalks of the many vendors who gather there each day to sell items such as pirated video compact discs, some of which contain pornography.

The vendors responded by throwing rocks and the small tables and beach umbrellas they use to sell their products on the crowded sidewalks, setting off the police attack, Pramono said.

In the assault on the BMW dealership, the mob ransacked the showroom and burned one of its computers, Pramono said.

``This was not an anti-Chinese attack. This was just criminals who illegally sell hot property in front of our shops,″ said Johanes Wijaya, 50, an Indonesian-Chinese shop-owner who rushed to his electronics store in Chinatown when he heard about the violence.

Nevertheless, he said he was happy that police quickly responded to prevent the violence from targeting Jakarta’s Chinese minority.

Since coming to power in October, President Abdurrahman Wahid, a reformist Muslim cleric with a Chinese ancestor, has promoted religious tolerance in Indonesia and lifted a long-standing ban on public Chinese festivities, such as the Chinese Lunar New Year in February.

The government also now allows the minority to operate Chinese-language schools and to use store signs written in Chinese characters.

Update hourly