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Police Witnesses Blame Opposition For Riot Violence

October 28, 1996

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ Police officers testified Monday that 73 pro-democracy activists on trial for rioting in July ignored police orders and sparked Indonesia’s worst political unrest in two decades.

The defendants’ chief lawyer, Robert Tambunan, accused the witnesses of lying.

``It was clear that their testimony has been engineered,″ Tambunan said on the first day of the trial.

The nine policemen took the witness stand separately in six courtrooms where the defendants are being tried in small groups.

The 73 defendants are among 124 supporters of opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri who were arrested after the July 27 rioting, which left five people dead. The trial of the remaining 51 was to begin Tuesday.

A government-sponsored human rights group has blamed the July riots on security forces, saying the violence came after police and Megawati’s political opponents stormed her party headquarters to evict thousands of supporters.

The supporters had holed up in the building to protest the government-orchestrated ouster of Megawati as head of the Indonesian Democratic Party. She was replaced by a pro-government politician.

Megawati, who has the loyalty of millions of admirers of her father, Sukarno, Indonesia’s first post-independence president, has increasingly pressed the government to extend greater political freedom.

President Suharto seized power from Sukarno in 1966 after crushing a coup that was blamed on Communists. The government said the July riots also had Communist involvement.

On Monday, the defendants in various courtrooms stood up and chanted ``he lies″ as the policemen testified.

``They only mentioned all the things done by the defendants, while refusing to acknowledge the doings of the other side,″ said Tambunan, the defense lawyer.

He said ``hundreds of people, including some noted figures living around the headquarters and some foreign journalists,″ have expressed a readiness to testify as defense witnesses.

The trials were adjourned until Wednesday.

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