Indonesian cops detain nearly 400 as protests turn violent

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Protesters say new Job Creation law will hurt workers, while govt insists legislation will boost investment

JAKARTA : Indonesian police detained nearly 400 protesters yesterday, some armed with Molotov cocktails and sharp weapons, on a second day of heated demonstrations over a controversial new jobs law.

Demonstrations took place in at least 12 locations yesterday, with the police detaining 183 people outside Parliament in Palembang in South Sumatra and holding more than 200 protesters for questioning in the capital Jakarta, a day after tear gas and water cannons were used to disperse crowds in multiple cities.

Footage from the Javanese city of Semarang showed angry protesters tearing down the fence of the local Parliament complex, while in Jakarta and Bandung, students threw stones and burned tyres.

The protesters are demanding the government revoke an "omnibus" Job Creation law that has outraged unions.

The sweeping new legislation, passed into law by Parliament on Monday, has been championed by the government of President Joko Widodo as key to boosting the competitiveness of the economy, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, by cutting red tape and attracting foreign investment.

Critics say the legislation hurts workers by cutting retrenchment benefits and leave.

They say the law also permits hiring of contract staff to replace full-time employees and is not environment friendly.

Academics expressed disappointment yesterday over a law they said was problematic and would likely lead to a judicial review. Professor Susi Dwi Harijanti said the law's swift passage "shocked everybody" as Parliament was usually "slow in making regulations, including the ones that are clearly needed by the people".

Indonesia's largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, also weighed in, with its leader K.H. Said Aqil Siradj saying it would benefit only capitalists, investors and conglomerates, and would "trample" on ordinary people.

Top Economic Minister Airlangga Hartarto yesterday sought to calm protesters and said many of their fears were based on false information.

"I can assure you wages will not be cut," he told a virtual news conference.

Other ministers have defended controversial provisions, including a land bank, saying the government would not take away farmers' lands, and the law would not weaken environmental protection. - REUTERS