August 29, 2019 / 11:22 AM / 22 days ago

Violent protest erupts in capital of Indonesia's Papua

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Protesters in Indonesia’s easternmost region of Papua set buildings ablaze in the provincial capital Jayapura on Thursday, forcing the state power firm to cut off electricity in some districts, state media and an executive of the utility said.

People ride motorbikes as they pass a building damaged after a riot in Jayapura, Papua, Indonesia, August 30, 2019 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Gusti Tanati/ via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators who also set fire to cars and threw stones at shops and offices, state news agency Antara said. Protesters also torched a local parliament office.

“Several public facilities and properties were damaged by rioters,” national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said.

The region has been racked by civil unrest for two weeks over perceived racial and ethnic discrimination. Some protesters are also demanding an independence vote - a move ruled out by te security minister on Thursday.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo called for calm on Thursday evening, telling reporters he had ordered “firm action against anarchist and racist actions”. He promised to further develop Papua.

During the riot in Jayapura, the protesters torched a building housing the offices of state-controlled telecoms firm Telekomunikasi Indonesia. The company said in a statement it could not assess the full damage yet.

The PLN utility has turned off power in areas around the torched building, Ahmad Rofik, regional director for Maluku and Papua, told Reuters.

State energy firm Pertamina shut several petrol stations in Jayapura because of the protest, Pertamina spokesman Fajriyah Usman said.

National military spokesman Major General Sisriadi said more than 1,000 people had taken part in the protest.

“The condition is gradually recovering,” Prasetyo told broadcaster Kompas TV. News website Kompas.com said demonstrators had begun to disperse.

Shooting broke out a day earlier between protesters and police in the town of Deiyai, about 500 km (310 miles) from Jayapura.

Police said one soldier and two civilians were killed in the incident, while a separatist group said six had been shot dead. The military dismissed that as a hoax.

Police have deployed 300 mobile brigade personnel to the towns of Deiyai, Paniai and Jayapura after Wednesday’s incident, media quoted police chief Tito Karnavian as saying.

A separatist movement has simmered for decades in Papua, while there have also been frequent complaints of rights abuses by Indonesian security forces.

The spark for the latest unrest was a racist slur against Papuan students, who were hit by tear gas in their dormitory and detained in the city of Surabaya on the main island of Java on Aug. 17, Indonesia’s Independence Day, for allegedly desecrating a national flag.

Papua and West Papua provinces, the resource-rich western part of the island of New Guinea, were a Dutch colony that was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticised U.N.-backed referendum in 1969.

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On Thursday, chief security minister Wiranto said the government would not entertain any demand for an independence vote, according to Kompas.com.

“Demands for a referendum, I think, is out of place. Demands for referendum I think must not be mentioned. Why? Because the unity of the Republic of Indonesia is final,” Wiranto said, cited by the news website.

The government has cut internet access in the region since last week to stop people sharing “provocative” messages that could trigger more violence.

Reporting by Jakarta bureau; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel and Angus MacSwan

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