(AFP) – May 27, 2008
JAKARTA (AFP) — Indonesian police clashed with protesters Tuesday amid ongoing anger at the government's decision to hike fuel prices to rescue the budget from soaring subsidy bills, reports said.
At least two demonstrators were arrested after some 30 students hurled stones at police lines during a protest at a university in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Elshinta radio reported.
In southern Sumatra island, angry students tried unsuccessfully to break police barricades and storm the convoy of Vice President Jusuf Kalla as he arrived at a meeting at Lampung, it said.
Hundreds of students and fishermen meanwhile set up a roadblock on a highway out of Surabaya, the country's second largest city, and hijacked a private fuel truck carrying kerosene, Detikcom online news service reported.
In Jakarta, police and students were engaged in a standoff throughout the morning outside the Christian University of Indonesia, where protesters had pelted police with firebombs on Monday.
Student spokesman Jefri Silalali told Detikcom the protesters eventually agreed to remove a roadblock and withdraw inside the campus after the university chancellor appealed for calm through a loudspeaker.
Another group of students gathered outside South Jakarta police station for a second day to demand the release of 34 of their friends who were arrested in clashes with police on Saturday.
"We are trying to negotiate with the police so they release our friends, but we have not been successful," student coordinator Riski Adam told AFP.
Police said the detainees were facing charges including willful damage and drug possession.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono hiked fuel prices by an average of 28.7 percent on Saturday to limit damage to the budget from soaring world oil prices.
Multi-billion-dollar fuel subsidies were blowing out to unsustainable levels as the price of oil surged above the budgeted 95 dollars a barrel to last week's all-time high of more than 135 dollars.
Analysts have welcomed the unpopular price hike -- the third since Yudhoyono's election in 2004 -- as a sign of the government's fiscal responsibility despite the political fallout leading up to elections in April.
Critics say the move will drive more Indonesians into poverty and place an intolerable burden on poor families on top of the recent spike in food prices.
The government insists that most of the fuel subsidies are wasted on relatively well-off car owners and that even with the higher prices Indonesians enjoy some of the cheapest petrol in Asia.
But to ease the impact on the country's most vulnerable, the government has started offering monthly cash handouts of just over 10 dollars to some 19.1 million poor families.
The compensation programme is due to expire in December but Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati has said another 2.5 billion dollars would be dispensed in 2009, Bisnis Indonesia daily reported.
The government last raised fuel prices by 126 percent in 2005, sparking protests but no long-term unrest.
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