Jakarta: Riot police in Indonesia have clashed with protesters as thousands of students resumed demonstrations against a new law they say has crippled the country’s anti-corruption agency.
Authorities blocked streets leading to the parliament building in Jakarta, where 560 members of the house of representatives, whose terms ended on Monday, held their last session.
Clashes between rock-throwing students and riot police broke out on Monday evening when police tried to disperse the protesters, ranging from high school to university students, who attempted to reach parliament after calm had largely returned to the country’s capital over the past four days.
Protesters set fires to tyres and pelted police with rocks, petrol bombs and firecrackers near blocked streets. Riot police responded by firing tear gas and water cannons.
Similar clashes also occurred in other Indonesian cities, including in West Java’s Bandung city and in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province, where a student was badly injured on Friday after being accidentally hit by anti-riot armour.
A protest also turned violent in President Joko Widodo’s hometown of Solo city in Central Java, where an angry mob threw rocks at police, injuring at least four female officers.
The demonstrators are enraged that parliament passed the law reducing the authority of the corruption commission, a key body fighting endemic graft in the country.
Activists say the revision weakens the powers of one of the most credible public institutions in a country where the police and parliament are perceived as being widely corrupt.
They are also demanding the new lawmakers change articles in the proposed criminal code, including one that would criminalise a variety of activities.
The protests have grown since last week and turned violent in some cities, with the burning of police posts and public facilities such as a toll gate and bus stops.
At least three people, including two students in Kendari city on Sulawesi island, have died and several hundred were injured.
The death of the students sparked a national outcry, prompting Widodo to express his deep condolences and order the national police chief to conduct a thorough investigation.
The protests, which underline Indonesia’s challenge in changing its graft-ridden image, have threatened the credibility of Widodo, who recently was re-elected after campaigning for clean governance.
He faced down riots in May by supporters of the losing candidate, former Gen Prabowo Subianto, but the new protests are not associated with any particular party, and instead are led by students, who historically have been a driving force of political change.
The students are demanding that Widodo issue a government regulation replacing the new law on the corruption commission, known by its Indonesian abbreviation, KPK. The anti-graft commission is frequently under attack by lawmakers who want to reduce its powers.
Widodo told reporters on Monday that the government would not forbid student demonstrations and called on protesters to avoid damaging public facilities.
Widodo said last Thursday that he was considering revoking the new anti-corruption law. However, the idea was immediately opposed by members of his coalition in parliament who want to reduce the powers of the anti-graft agency.