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Police Clash With Mob in Jakarta

May 13, 2000

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

As people fled the police assault, they 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 arrested and taken away in police vans, said police officer Pramono, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

Several policemen were seen being treated for minor injuries, 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’s streets and sidewalks reopened to traffic and pedestrians, but police remained on the scene.

The attack occurred two years after a student-led, pro-democracy movement’s massive protests and riots forced President Suharto to resign. Some of the 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 a clash between Indonesia’s majority Muslims and minority Chinese.

Pramono said it began when local 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 desks 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 shopowner who rushed to his electronics store in Chinatown when he heard about the violence.

Since coming to power in October, President Abdurrahman Wahid, a reformist Muslim cleric, 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