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Riots, chaos worsen in Papua island

August 20, 2019

MANOKWARI, Indonesia: Riots broke out and a local parliament building was torched in Indonesia’s Papua on Monday, as thousands protested against the weekend detention of pro-independence student activists.

An Agence France-Presse reporter on the scene estimated several thousand protesters took to the streets of Manokwari, the capital of West Papua province, bringing the city of some 130,000 to a standstill.

Some demonstrators also set fire to shops and vehicles, knocked down street signs, and threw rocks at government buildings.

Riots, chaos worsen in Papua island 1
BREAKING FREE Protesters demanding independence from Jakarta take to the street to face off with Indonesian police in Manokwari, Papua. Riots have erupted in the restive island nearly two decades after similar scenario happened shorly after Suharto’s downfall. AFP PHOTO

“The parliament building has been set on fire,” West Papua Deputy Governor Mohamad Lakotani told Kompas TV.

“Downtown, markets, the port and shops are all affected. All activities are basically paralysed,” he added.

Three police officers were injured by rock-throwing protesters, police said. It was not immediately clear if any demonstrators were injured. Authorities closed local schools for the day.

Papua, which has been the scene of a decades-long insurgency against Indonesian rule, shares a border with independent Papua New Guinea (PNG), just north of Australia.

A former Dutch colony, Papua declared itself independent in 1961, but neighboring Indonesia took control of the resource-rich region following a UN-sponsored independence referendum that was widely viewed as a sham.

Monday’s riots were triggered by reports that authorities tear-gassed and detained some 43 Papuan university students in the Southeast Asian nation’s second-biggest city Surabaya on Saturday — Indonesia’s independence day.

Local media and Papuan activists said police in riot gear stormed into a dormitory and used tear gas in a bid to force out students who allegedly destroyed an Indonesian flag.

National Police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo did not deny reports that police used tear gas, but said the students in Surabaya were only “questioned” briefly before being set free.


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