September 27, 2019 / 11:36 AM / 17 days ago

Indonesia president urges police restraint after student protesters' deaths

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian president Joko Widodo on Friday called for police restraint and promised an investigation into the deaths of two students, killed while taking part in protests that have spread to become the country’s biggest in decades.

FILE PHOTO: Indonesian President Joko Widodo gestures during an interview with Reuters at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia February 10, 2016. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

The protests, against new laws, began on Monday and have turned violent in several places with more than 300 hurt in Jakarta alone, prompting calls from Amnesty International for an investigation into what it called “massive” aggression by police, who have fired tear gas and used water cannon.

Demonstrators’ anger is focused on a revised law that activists say will hobble Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency, and plans to outlaw extramarital sex and penalise insulting the president’s honour.

The two dead university students, both men, were part of a rally on Thursday in Kendari on the island of Sulawesi. One died the same day and the other on Friday. Police gave the cause of one of the deaths as bullet wounds.

Another student was critically ill with head injuries after a protest in Jakarta on Tuesday, officials and the university said on Wednesday.

More rallies took place in the capital on Friday, but on a smaller scale than on previous days and no clashes were reported. Police chief Tito Karnavian said at least 200 people had been arrested since the protests began.

Widodo said on Thursday said he was considering revoking the new anti-corruption law.

On Friday he said he had ordered an investigation into the two deaths, telling reporters in Jakarta: “I told the national police chief that his personnel should not act repressively.”

Karnavian has said officers were barred from using firearms or sharp weapons to contain the protests.

National Police spokesman M. Iqbal said an investigation into the students’ deaths, including autopsies, was under way, and that if it concluded they had been shot, strict action would be taken against the perpetrators, even if they were found to be police.

Widodo is due to be sworn in for a second term on Oct. 20 after winning a national election.

Chief Security Minister Wiranto has said the student protests were hijacked by a group aiming to disrupt parliament and Widodo’s inauguration next month.

The president also said on Thursday he planned to meet with students’ representatives, though on Friday State Secretary Pratikno said no schedule has been set yet for a meeting.

Reporting by Maikel Jefriando, Jessica Damiana; Writing by Fransiska Nangoy; Editing by Ed Davies and John Stonestreet

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