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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


In a rare close-up look at the violence convulsing Java, Asiaweek reporters meet a riot cop who is scared of big crowds, a Chinese merchant who listens to a police scanner for coming trouble, a Muslim cleric who talks followers out of mindless violence, and a job-seeker who has been told "no openings" more times than he can remember

THE RIOT COP Gatot Suhadi cranks the throttle of his motorbike. It is 6:30 a.m. -- too early for work -- but his pager has told him a food riot may be brewing on the outskirts of Jakarta. Anonymous warnings of demos and bomb threats are routine these days. Suhadi, 41, is a 23-year veteran of the Jakarta police. He used to make most of his living cracking down on errant motorists, collecting "fines" that helped pay rent and his kids' education. For a while he had it easy in the personnel department.

These days Suhadi (not his real name) is on riot duty almost full-time. That means less money for more dangerous work, which, he allows, makes him more violent toward rioters, many of them ordinary citizens who are suffering exactly the same economic pangs as he.

With no coffee in his belly, Suhadi arrives at the station, grabs his helmet, rattan stick and plastic shield, and boards the truck that will take them to the suburbs. As commander, his orders are to protect a shopping center from the protesters.

The day has dawned cloudy, and Suhadi hopes fervently for heavy rain. That's the only "subtle" way to get rid of a hungry crowd. But the rain refuses to fall. Instead the sad sky turns glary, and the humidity climbs, or so it feels to a man inside a thick uniform. With sweat dripping off his face, Suhadi tries to urge his troops into the "ready-one" position. His friendly face becomes an impassive mask. This is no time for smiles or soft words.

Suhadi does not know exactly what these protesters want. Perhaps if he did, he would agree with them. But you follow the instructions you are given and ignore the context. It's called professionalism. As a rule, Suhadi does not look closely at the people on the other side of the fence of shields; he might recognize an acquaintance, a friend -- or even a relative. He tries not to worry about that and concentrates on keeping the capital secure.

Losing a round to demonstrators is not an option because he could easily become the victim. Still fresh in his mind is the 1996 government-orchestrated takeover of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI)headquarters when a colleague was beaten up. The man was rushed to hospital, but after that nothing else was quick. Hospital staff seemed to take their time treating him; his broken bones were set days after he was injured because doctors wanted to make sure they would get paid. The man is still unable to work and has lost his food allowance and other benefits.

Suhadi is the first to admit anti-riot tactics are rough. He can't really say if he feels remorse for hurting people. But he says police brutality is partly generated by the conditions under which he and his colleagues work. Big crowds are the worst. Riot police are taught not to take on large mobs directly because the violence can spray in all directions. Like all cops, Suhadi knows a big crowd is not afraid of weapons; only individuals fear bullets. He recalls one time on the East Java isle of Madura when police fired on a crowd and things turned ugly fast. The same thing happened during the incident at PDI headquarters in 1996.

Before a crowd grows too big, Suhadi and his men infiltrate it and create an incident. "We handle it roughly," he says, "so those coming later are less keen to get involved. Most of the time, we over-react. We beat up people until they're really paralyzed. We hope the person will stay unconscious until we finish handling him so he won't recognize our faces. It's what we're told to do. It's also good sense, because if we're recognized our victim might seek revenge." Sometimes he wonders if prosperity eludes him because he has committed so many sins as a cop.

On this day, the protest does not turn ugly. The mob and police stand face-to-face, toe-to-toe for maybe two hours. After a little push-and-pull, the crowd fades away. Suhadi orders his men back on the truck, lays down his rattan stick and helmet. Then it is back to the office to write a report for his commander -- and to wait for the next reason to rush into action.

-- By Dewi Loveard

THE CHINESE Rumors live well these days in Jember, a town in the heartland of East Java. Superstitions are mixed in to explain what logic fails to. One recent morning fire gulped down Sumber Mas department store, Jember's second largest. The authorities aren't saying how the blaze began and are anxious to forestall speculation. "We are told not to say it was arson," says a Chinese merchant, whose shop stands opposite.

But it does not take an investigator to connect the fire to the ethnic tension that is roiling rural areas of Indonesia's main island. Despite the official warnings and lack of evidence, a compelling theory soon bubbled to the surface and spilled over. It went like this: Sumber Mas's ethnic-Chinese owner told pals that he gave upeti (tithes) to Muslim clerics. The clerics, supposedly offended, demanded an apology. When the owner refused, they allegedly told him: "You will see what happens on Thursday!" By 2:30 a.m. that day, the store was in flames.

Next door, Ku Kwok Lim was startled awake by pounding on the door of his photo-processing shop. Already on guard for trouble, he thought people were throwing rocks. Then he felt the heat. The door knob was so hot he had to spray it with a fire extinguisher just to turn it. His family and live-in employees fled the shop. There was no time to grab their belongings.

A work of calligraphy in Ku's home says: "It comes suddenly, as if it emerges from a tree." That means no one can predict the onset of disaster or fortune. But Ku saw this one coming.

Like every Chinese merchant in town, he is scared to raise prices to offset the withered rupiah and risk offending the indigenous pribumi. Ku says he buys film for 23,500 rupiah ($2.46) a roll and sells it for 18,000. "Once a customer was angry when Isold him a roll for 18,000 rupiah. He threatened to burn my store. I tried to make him understand: 'Sir, we already sell at a losing price.'" Ku sighs. "It's no secret we are the scapegoats."

In the end, the flames spared Ku's business, a miracle he attributes to Kwan Im, the Goddess of Mercy, whose statue he worships daily in his four-story shophouse. Ku believes Kwan Im will protect him from the ethnic fires smoldering beneath the surface

Other Chinese are less inclined to put their faith in the gods. Taufik Amin, who owns an electronics shop, prefers to rely on technology. In a dark room, he tunes in to the police radio channel; if there is a riot in downtown Jember, say, he calls his family and friends. They, in turn, pick up the phone to warn others. Chinese like Taufik (who changed his name to better fit in) get especially jumpy around noon, when Muslims gather to pray at the local mosque. Crowds are almost always braver than individuals.

As much as he understands the situation, Taufik never quite gets the logic behind the resentment. "Why do they go after their own men?" he wonders. "The people whose belongings they burn are their own people."

But to many pribumi, ethnic Chinese are a breed apart, even Nuning Magdalena, who has gone as "Indonesian" as possible. Born Christian, she converted to Islam when she married her Javanese husband. She plans to join the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca this year. But in the eyes of the pribumi, she will always be an outsider. They call her "Chinese Nuning."

In February, a mob attacked her store, the biggest in Pasuruan, 675 km southeast of Jakarta. The attackers were from a nearby village, incensed that kerosene had soared from 350 rupiah to 1,000. Once again rumor was at work. People had heard that Nuning, the local kerosene distributor, had single-handedly jacked up the price.

Most of the people who went on the rampage were Madurese fisherman. The Madurese are reputed to have notoriously fiery tempers. They marched to Nuning's store and hurled stones and fishing bombs, even though the shop had been closed for five days for holidays. Later, the anger spread to other Chinese businesses, including Nuning's rice mill, which was torched. "We heard she was hoarding rice," said Abdul Mukti, who works at a Chinese farm. Mukti, 30, knows Javanese shops also hike prices but insists that it is the fault of Chinese middle-men.

There are plenty of angry folk in Pasuruan, capable of throwing rocks and torching shops. Yet for the most part they are friendly and polite. Economic crisis can bring out the worst in anyone.

-- By Yenni Kwok

THE CLERIC When Sjarifuddin became an ulema, or Muslim cleric, he never imagined the calling would involve providing financial advice. These days Sjarifuddin, 34, is on constant stand-by, providing counsel to people befuddled by their declining material circumstances -- and preventing the same people from solving their problems with mindless violence.

One day a man came to see him. Right away, Sjarifuddin could see he was contemplating action of some kind. One moment his face betrayed deep worry, the next naked anger. The visitor's wife was about to have their second child. But the manager of a local clinic would not allow the delivery because the couple lacked the rupiah to pay. The husband wanted to "challenge the arrogant operator," not fully understanding that the clinic had little choice but to raise prices because the cost of imported medicine had soared. Eventually, Sjarifuddin calmed the man down: "You can't expect a similar price to four years ago," he told him gently. Another incident defused.

Dealing with individuals is one thing, mobs quite another. Though volatile crowds often include Sjarifuddin's students, cooling them off can take hours of artful persuasion. Uprisings in Indonesia are often sparked by a single incident involving one person -- these days, mostly an irate shopper. One time, a woman visited a Chinese grocer and found rice had doubled from the previous day. Soon, the same was true of eggs. Yet government television announcers were constantly telling her there would be no price hikes.

In the absence of clarity, people leapt to a hoary conclusion: There was obviously a conspiracy among traders to gouge shoppers. Anger festered, and before long local residents had decided to teach the Chinese shopkeepers a lesson. Before they set off to loot and burn, however, the mob visited Sjarifuddin to "bless" what they were about to do. It took him several hours to talk them out of it -- and he was left with the definite impression that maybe next time he would not succeed so well.

In the old days, Sjarifuddin woke at 4:45 for his morning prayers and to read the Koran. Now he has added the local newspaper to his daily routine. He also reads magazines and watches TV. "I was never interested in what was happening in the world," he says, "but now Ihave to find out. I have to be able to explain what is happening to the people and try to help them be patient. We cannot achieve anything just with hot-headedness."

Sjarifuddin also receives regular visits from village chiefs and security officials, who want to discuss the crisis and ways to keep the poisonous passions contained. "Everything is already irrational," the ulema notes. "We have to keep troops in our community to keep an eye on the temperature. In this climate, it would be very easy for someone to start trouble by accusing someone else of being a communist."

He is harking back to the sinister '60s, when official warnings of a communist putsch created cover for the anti-Chinese pogrom that left up to 400,000 people dead. The cleric reckons the current turmoil is disturbingly similar. And he knows the word of the Prophet alone is not enough to halt another bloodbath.

-- By Dewi Loveard

THE JOB-SEEKER Jakarta's industrial districts of Tangerang and Merak are desolate -- sprawling factory compounds, overgrown empty lots and dormitory-style houses where families pay 60,000 rupiah ($6.30) a month to live in one room. There are communal bathrooms, water pumps and laundry hanging between trees. There are muddy, winding paths, the reek of sewage and the sound of children. And there is Jalalludin, a 25-year-old farmer's son from rural Java who, until recently, supported his wife and child by working at a local carton factory. The plant continues to spit out boxes, but Jalalludin no longer works there. He was laid off before the Muslim holidays of Lebaran, as were five million other Indonesians, according to independent union leaders.

Although he worked at the carton factory for four years, Jalalludin didn't get the severance pay he was promised. Now he is engaged full-time in a discouraging search for work, his wife and child living with her parents back in the home village. Jalalludin has lost count of the factories he has visited. On this day, he starts with an electronics plant. With him he carries a file with the 10 things he needs for a job application: a diploma, a doctor's letter, police letter, worker's ID, national ID, proof of residence, a list of places where he has lived in Indonesia, four photos, request for employment and a recommendation letter. If one of these "conditions" is missing, potential employers will reject his application -- in fact, the guards may not even let him through the gate. So he carries the file with him, although anyone looking at him already knows he is a job-seeker.

When he gets to the factory, there are already five men in front of him, asking if there are any openings. There are none. So he walks 3 km to the next factory, one that makes shoes for Nike. Again, no vacancies. "They just say there're no vacancies," he says. "They don't explain why." On his rounds, he meets other job-seekers. Sometimes they exchange information: what factories might be hiring, whether anyone has been hired. They make comments such as: "It is hard to find work these days for people with no work."

The day wears on, and it is getting hotter. Half a kilometer from the second factory is one that makes cable. He checks there, and no luck either. By now it is noon, and people are on lunch break. Out on the main road, chattering workers go out the factory gates and across to restaurants. Jalalludin's meal is a small rice snack he buys on the roadside. Meet him and you might think his face looks oddly vacant. But it may well be hunger. He has no money, surviving on occasional handouts from his brother, who still has work in Tangerang. So far, he says, his brother hasn't complained about him staying with him and his family.

When the heat is intense, Jalalludin rests by the side of the road, under the trees. There is little time left, since by 2 p.m. offices no longer receive job applicants. He tries another shoe factory. There is a big sign outside the gate: "Tidak Ada Lowongan." There Are No Vacancies. He has seen such signs many times before. "Sometimes the lettering is in red," he says with a rare smile. He asks the guard at the gate if there are any openings (it never hurts to check, he reckons) and the man tells him no.

Jalalludin sets off for a biscuit factory, the last of the day. He already knows the answer: no openings. He makes the long trek home, stopping to chat with two friends, one also out of work, the other still with a job. Again the conversations revolve around who might be hiring. Back home he is exhausted but doesn't sleep. Chattering children, the sound of the workers' families around the house -- all keep him up. He smokes, talks with his brother and finally goes to bed at 10.

As long as Jalalludin remains healthy he will continue his depressing slog from factory to factory. But in the back of his mind he wonders how long he can keep going. One day will the words "no vacancies" finally become too much? If that happens, he will go back to the village and farm, though he knows life there will be no easier. Prices there have also risen, jobs grown scarce. Jalalludin does not speak of blame, or ascribe fault -- not to the government, nor the Chinese. His existence is focused on one thing only: he must find work. Without a job his family's future is too worrying to even consider.n

-- By Jose Manuel Tesoro

MENACING The men, here, reputedly took part in recent violence in Pasuruan; Jakarta riot police, right, are on constant standby

Charles Dharapak -- AP


Charles Dharapak -- AP

SUSPICION Ku's father sits in the photo shop in Jember, as Muslims pass the Chinese supermarket next door that mysteriously caught fire


Muchtar Zakaria--AP

NO OPENINGS Union leaders say that during the Muslim Lebaran festival last month, more than 5 million Indonesian workers lost their jobs

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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