Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Students Press Limits of Defiance in Indonesia as Suharto Starts His Seventh Term, Students Tried to Broaden Their Protests - on Campus

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Students Press Limits of Defiance in Indonesia as Suharto Starts His Seventh Term, Students Tried to Broaden Their Protests - on Campus

Article excerpt

At 8:30 a.m. only a few hundred students gather to begin the protest. Three hours later it swells to perhaps 10,000 people calling for their president to hear their voice, to step down, even to hang. Then they burn him in effigy, hold their fists in the air, and read a final declaration.

As the crowd breaks up, sparse drops of rain cool the air.

So went yesterday at a university in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta. In a half-dozen other cities, students and activists protested the swearing-in of President Suharto, who today begins his 33rd year as Indonesia's ruler. In all but a couple of instances, the students played by the unwritten rules of protest in Indonesia today. They stayed inside their campuses, leaving the police outside to sit around in riot gear. But all over Indonesia students are debating when to defy this restriction and take to the streets. Some say it should happen next week; others, in a few months. Unless students see change, they say, they will push Indonesia's turbulence to a new level, one that will pose difficult questions. As one former student activist here puts it, "How many will the Army kill?" Protest's beginnings As the original group of several hundred students winds through the Yogyakarta campus, they are joined by streams of others who have gathered elsewhere. Quickly their numbers expand. At the front of the march, three male students walk haltingly, their eyes almost closed. They wear loincloths and have smeared their bodies with a chalky substance. One holds a red-and-white Indonesian flag in his hands. The students are trying to look sickly. Other students explain that these young men symbolize Indonesia's poor, who have been most harshly affected by the country's economic crisis. In recent months, the prices of basic foodstuffs have doubled or tripled as a result of the country's weakened currency. The protesters are careful to keep this issue front and center. Although their opposition to Suharto makes for good video clips, the students emphasize the solidarity they are attempting to build with peasant farmers and low-wage urban workers. As organizers steer them along roads that will keep them on campus, the streams of protesters walk and chant together as the heat of the sun gains in intensity. The mood of the crowd sharpens as well, and shouts of "Down with Suharto" begin to displace calls for lower prices. After an hour or so of walking, the chants grow more pointed. Some equate the president with a dog, others demand that he be hanged. The students are sensitive to their international audience. A poster reads in English, "Suharto: Dictator of the Year." One student, seeing foreign reporters, begins shouting in English, "We want a new leader! We want democracy in this country!" Student viewpoint Nurhadi is a graduate student in anthropology at Gadjah Mada University, where yesterday's protest took place. …

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