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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

Simmering To Boiling

Rising prices are triggering unrest throughout the country.
Will Jakarta succumb as well?


Go to a map showing areas of unrest

Go to a story about Singapore and Indonesia

Go to an interview with ASEAN secretary-general Rodolfo Severino

THE SENSE OF NORMALCY quickly returned to Pamanukan. It was almost as if the riots had never occurred. People were strolling the streets, children were playing and trishaw drivers were doing their rounds. But the reminders of the violence were hard to miss: burnt-out vehicles, gutted buildings and stores with "Muslim" or "toko Muslim" (Muslim shop) painted on their shutters -- an obvious attempt to turn away the wrath of the mobs.

The unrest in Pamanukan, just 95 km east of Jakarta, began on Feb. 13 and was typical of the rash of riots that has hit the country lately. Triggered by rising prices, the disturbance saw the destruction and looting of shops, restaurants, churches and schools run by ethnic Chinese, who are mainly Buddhists or Christians. The police could do little but offer refuge to fleeing Chinese. The rioters were said to be a mix of locals and out-of-towners; some say there is a band of rabble-rousers going from town to town to incite violence.

Ethnic Chinese were not the only targets. Mob logic dictates that any excuse is good enough for acts of violence, and at one point, rioters surrounded a Protestant church and demanded: "Chinese, come out!" When the couple inside the church responded that they were not Chinese but indigenous pribumi, the call was immediately changed to "Christians, come out!" The mob threw rocks, damaging the building, but was unable to break in.

The recent incidents in and around Pamanukan are doubly disturbing because the area is close to the capital Jakarta. Like some malignant disease, the unrest that was largely restricted to East Java last month is spreading across the island, as well as into other parts of the country. About five people have died. Despite the ominous trend, Jakarta itself is likely to be safe from the riots, as the government is determined not to let social disturbances shake the capital before the presidential selection process in March. To head off any rumblings of discontent, authorities have set up bazaars to sell staples at subsidized prices, established work programs for the unemployed, and warned job-seekers from the provinces to keep out. But it is anyone's guess how much longer Jakarta can remain an oasis of relative calm.

-- By Sangwon Suh and Jose Manuel Tesoro / Pamanukan


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