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Thousands of students, workers protest new Indonesian law

October 7, 2020 GMT
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A labor demonstrator raises his fists in support of the protest against a controversial omnibus bill on job creation in Tangerang, Indonesia, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Thousands of students and laborers protested on Wednesday against the new law they say cripples labor rights and harms the environment. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
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A labor demonstrator raises his fists in support of the protest against a controversial omnibus bill on job creation in Tangerang, Indonesia, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Thousands of students and laborers protested on Wednesday against the new law they say cripples labor rights and harms the environment. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

BANDUNG, Indonesia (AP) — Thousands of Indonesian students and workers protested on Wednesday against a new law they say will cripple labor rights and harm the environment, with some clashing with police. One student was apparently shot.

Authorities in Bandung, the capital of West Java province, blocked streets leading to the local parliament building and city hall, where clashes between rock-throwing students and riot police broke out late Tuesday when police tried to disperse the protesters.

On Wednesday, more than 3,000 protesters, including workers and high school and university students, attempted to reach the heavily guarded parliament building. Protesters set fires to tires near blocked streets and pelted police with rocks and gasoline bombs and broke down a gate of the parliament compound. Riot police responded by firing tear gas and water cannons.

Smaller protests also occurred in other Indonesian cities, including in Jakarta’s satellite cities of Tangerang and Bekasi where large factories are located, and many cities on Sumatra and Sulawesi islands.

The protest in Bekasi turned violent in the afternoon, with a video obtained by The Associated Press showing a student collapsing three meters (yards) from a police barricade after a gunshot was heard. Other students carried him away, and his condition was unclear.

National Police spokesman Argo Yuwono said riot police used only tear gas and rubber bullets in dispersing the protesters. He said authorities are still investigating the violence in Bekasi in which both students and police were injured.

Yuwono urged protesters to convey their views in an orderly and good mannered way, and always wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Thousands of workers from factories in West Java’s Karawang city and Serang town in Banten province also protested outside their factories.

Police in the capital, Jakarta, prevented labor groups from holding a mass rally in front of Parliament.

The new Job Creation Law, which was approved Monday, is expected to bring radical changes to Indonesia’s labor system and natural resources management. It amended 79 previous laws, including the Labor Law, the Spatial Planning Law and Environmental Management Law.

It is intended to improve bureaucratic efficiency and cut red tape as part of efforts by President Joko Widodo’s administration to attract more investment in the vast archipelago nation, home to more than 270 million people.

Seven parties in the House of Representatives approved the legislation while two others rejected it, with their members walking out of the plenary session.

The Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions, known as KSPI, said about 2 million workers representing 32 labor unions would take part in mass rallies and strikes in various cities for several days starting Tuesday.

KSPI President Said Iqbal released a statement saying the new law will hurt workers, including by reducing severance pay, removing restrictions on manual labor by foreign workers, increasing the use of outsourcing, and converting monthly wages into hourly wages.

“We reject the entire contents of the omnibus law which is very detrimental to workers,” Iqbal said. “It must be canceled immediately. The workers are already suffering a lot from the COVID-19 crisis.”

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Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, is eagerly courting foreign investors as key drivers of economic growth in a nation where nearly half the population is younger than 30.

Last year, Widodo told The Associated Press that he will push ahead with sweeping and potentially unpopular economic reforms, including a more business-friendly labor law, in his final term because he is no longer constrained by politics.

“In the next five years I have no political burden so in making a decision, especially important decisions for the country, in my opinion it will be easier,” Widodo said.

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Karmini reported from Jakarta, Indonesia.