Indonesian fuel hike protests turn violent

By Tenri Tatta

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 27 2012 3:10 a.m. MDT

Protesters wear masks of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during a protest against the government's plan to raise fuel prices outside the parliament in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, March 27, 2012. The Indonesian government plans to raise fuel prices by about 33 percent next month to avoid a budget deficit due to expensive fuel subsidies.

Dita Alangkara, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

MAKASSAR, Indonesia — Police fired tear gas and water canons to disperse thousands of rock-throwing Indonesians protesting plans to push up fuel prices by more than 30 percent. Several students were arrested, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.

Rallies were held under tight security in big cities all over the country Tuesday as parliament debated the need for a hike.

Some lawmakers said the government had no choice but to cut budget-busting fuel subsidies, which have for years enabled motorists to fill up for roughly $2 per gallon. Others argued raising prices could more than double inflation to 7 percent.

With global oil prices surging, most Indonesians realize 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 last week.

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

Security was especially tight in Jakarta, where 20,000 soldiers and police were deployed to secure key locations, including the presidential palace.

"We reject the fuel hike plan," Akhmad Suhaimi, a protest leader, told cheering demonstrators gathered in front of the palace. He said it will push up the cost of everything from food and transportation to electricity.

"It's the poor that are going to suffer most."

Most protests were peaceful Tuesday.

But in Makassar, the main city on Sulawesi island, thousands of protesters blocked off the main thoroughfare and pelted police with rocks. Live television showed several fires burning in the city's streets.

Crowds were eventually dispersed with tear gas and water cannons.

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

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