Anarchy at Tanjung Priok Leaves a Trail of Destruction

By webadmin on 02:08 am Apr 15, 2010
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Nivell Rayda, Arientha Primanita & Dimas Siregar

What began as a misunderstanding evolved into a conflict that turned Tanjung Priok port into a war zone on Wednesday.

At about 6 a.m., some 2,000 public order officers, known as Satpol PP, began arriving in convoys at the tomb of Habib Hasan bin Muhammad Al Hadad, also known as Mbah Priok, in the Koja area of Tanjung Priok, according to city spokesman Cucu Ahmad Kurnia, who spoke during a news conference at City Hall.

Two excavator machines accompanied the officers. Cucu said they were there to remove illegal buildings, including the gate to the tomb complex, which did not have permits.

But about 400 residents, apparently thinking that Satpol was there to destroy what they believe to be a sacred tomb, were waiting for them at the gates, armed with sickles and machetes.

For several tense minutes, the two groups held their ground, taunting each other, waiting for the other to attack.

Shortly before 7 a.m., chaos erupted. It remains unclear who initiated the violence — demonstrators claimed Satpol officers targeted two teenagers who broke ranks, while officials say protesters cast the first stone.

The standoff quickly became a riot. Protestors threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at the officers, injuring many. One officer nearly lost an arm while another was reportedly slashed across the stomach. The authorities retaliated, injuring a number of rioters, many of them critically.

Shortly after the fighting started, about 700 Jakarta Police officers arrived on the scene.

Television footage showed a mob running amok. Several Satpol officers in full protective gear and armed with shields and batons were shown repeatedly beating a resident.

Other images showed residents, many of whom wore motorcycle helmets for protection, kicking and throwing rocks at an injured Satpol officer lying on the ground.

By early afternoon, after police used tear gas and pepper bullets in attempts to disperse protesters, the situation had calmed slightly.
But the lull didn’t last long.

At around 2 p.m., at nearby Koja hospital where several of the injured had been taken, clashes broke out again. This time the number of rioters had increased to at least 1,000.

Wanda Hamidah, a member of the Jakarta Provincial Legislative Council (DPRD), told the Jakarta Globe that Satpol officers were uncontrollable, attacking several legislators at the scene. “If a DPRD member can get punched by Satpol, how about the people? Satpol was just so brutal,” Wanda said.

One such civilian was 25-year-old Amin, who told the Globe that he and his father and brother were delivering water to some of his friends who were guarding the tomb site at around 2 p.m. When the riots broke out again, they tried to hide behind a structure near the harbor.

But a public order officer saw them and shouted that they were rioters. He said his father was grabbed and immediately punched. “I hugged my father to protect him. But I was pulled off and punched by Satpol, too,” he said. “They pulled off my clothes until I was almost naked. Fortunately, one police officer ordered me to put on my clothes. Then they tied a rope around my hands so I could not do anything while they kicked and punched me.”

They were only saved, he said, when other angry local residents came to their rescue. Amin was taken to the hospital with an open wound on his head, while his father’s face was severely bruised.

Others were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I was just trying to get home when the riot broke out. I was stopped by a police officer and he told me to go to the police station,” Ruli said as he was leaving Koja hospital.

“I tried to tell him that I was only passing by. Out of nowhere his colleagues hit me in the right temple and again at the back of my head.”

Muhammad Nuril, 15, said he wasn’t even from Jakarta.

“I heard on the news that the cemetery I often visit would be moved. I felt motivated to come from Tangerang,” he said.

Nuril said he was hit in the face with a baton by a police officer, who smashed his glasses. Fragments of the glasses cut his left eye and his vision was partially impaired, he said.

At about 4 p.m., the enraged mob upped the ante. At Koja hospital, several local residents were seen patrolling the halls with wooden sticks, looking for wounded Satpol officers.

The hospital staff would not reveal the identities of the public order officers they treated, evacuating them by sea to an undisclosed location.

Other rioters conducted a sweep of the vehicles stuck in the massive traffic jam along Jalan Raya Koja, searching for police or public order officers and forcing motorists to show their identity cards.

Rioters also began looting the offices of the Tanjung Priok port and destroying vehicles owned by Satpol and the Jakarta Police.

Relative calm returned to the area in the evening, but the fires continued. The burned vehicles were stripped for spare parts and scrap metal.

By the end of the day, two Satpol PP officers had been confirmed dead and 144 others injured — 10 police officials, 69 public order officials and 65 locals. In addition, 59 official vehicles had either gone up in flames or been severely damaged, including a police water cannon vehicle that was set on fire.