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Chinese citizen journalist jailed for Wuhan virus reporting

Yahoo – AFP, 28 December 2020 

Authoroties said former Chinese lawyer and citizen journalist
Zhang Zhan had spread "False remarks" online.

A Chinese citizen journalist was jailed for four years Monday for her reporting from Wuhan as the Covid-19 outbreak began, her lawyer said, almost a year after details of an "unknown viral pneumonia" surfaced in the central China city. 

Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer who arrived at court in a wheelchair, was sentenced at a brief hearing in a Shanghai court for allegedly "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" during her reporting in the chaotic initial stages of the outbreak. 

Her live reports and essays were shared on social media platforms in February, grabbing the attention of authorities, who have punished eight virus whistleblowers so far as they curb criticism of the government's response to the outbreak. 

Beijing has congratulated itself for "extraordinary" success in controlling the virus inside its borders, with an economy on the rebound while much of the rest of the world stutters through painful lockdowns and surging caseloads a year on from the start of the pandemic in Wuhan. 

Controlling the information flow during an unprecedented global health crisis has been pivotal in allowing China's communist authorities to reframe the narrative in their favour, with President Xi Jinping being garlanded for his leadership by the country's ruling party. 

But that has come at a serious cost to anyone who has picked holes in the official storyline. 

The court said Zhang Zhan had spread "false remarks" online, according to one of her lawyers Zhang Keke, but the prosecution did not fully divulge its evidence in court. 

"We had no way of understanding what exactly Zhang Zhan was accused of doing," he added, describing it as "a speedy, rushed hearing." 

In return the defendant "didn't respond [to questions]... She refused to answer when the judge asked her to confirm her identity." 

The defendant's mother sobbed loudly as the verdict was read out, Ren Quanniu, another member of Zhang's defence team, told reporters who were barred from entering the court. 

Concerns are mounting over the health of 37-year-old Zhang, who began a hunger strike in June and has been force-fed via a nasal tube. 

Her legal team said her health was in decline and she suffered from headaches, dizziness and stomach pain, and that she had appeared in court in a wheelchair. 

"She said when I visited her (last week): 'If they give me a heavy sentence then I will refuse food until the very end.'... She thinks she will die in prison," Ren said before the trial. 

"It's an extreme method of protesting against this society and this environment." 

China's communist authorities have a history of putting dissidents on trial in opaque courts between Christmas and New Year in an effort to minimise Western scrutiny. 

Example made

The sentencing comes just weeks before an international team of World Health Organization experts is expected to arrive in China to investigate the origins of Covid-19. 

Zhang was critical of the early response in Wuhan, writing in a February essay that the government "didn't give people enough information, then simply locked down the city". 

"This is a great violation of human rights," she wrote. 

Rights groups and embassies have also drawn attention to her case, although diplomats from several countries were denied requests to monitor the hearing. 

"Zhang Zhan's case raises serious concerns about media freedom in China," the British embassy in Beijing said, urging "China to release all those detained for their reporting." 

Authorities "want to use her case as an example to scare off other dissidents from raising questions about the pandemic situation in Wuhan earlier this year", added Leo Lan, research and advocacy consultant at the Chinese Human Rights Defenders NGO. 

A United Nations official following the trial also expressed "deep concern" about the verdict. 

"We raised her case with the authorities throughout 2020 as an example of the excessive clampdown on freedom of expression linked to #COVID19 & continue to call for her release," the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a tweet. 

Zhang is the first of a group of four citizen journalists detained by authorities after reporting from Wuhan to face trial. 

Previous attempts by AFP to contact the other three -- Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin and Li Zehua -- were unsuccessful. 

Related Article:

(>13.46 Min - Reference to the Global Coronavirus crisis)

Indonesia minister arrested over pandemic aid corruption

Yahoo –AFP, December 6, 2020

Two Indonesian ministers have been arrested in recent weeks over
corruption allegations


Indonesia's social affairs minister was arrested Sunday for allegedly taking $1.2 million in bribes linked to food aid for those hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
 

Juliari Batubara was named as a suspect after Indonesian anti-corruption agents seized suitcases, backpacks and envelopes stuffed with cash equivalent to $1.2 million in a sting operation on Saturday. 

He turned himself in on Sunday at the anti-corruption agency's headquarters, becoming the second minister in President Joko Widodo's government to be arrested over alleged graft in recent weeks. 

"That's the people's money... it's aid urgently needed to help during Covid-19 and for the national economic recovery," Widodo said after Batubara's arrest, vowing he would not protect any corrupt officials. 

Indonesia's economy -- Southeast Asia's biggest -- has been hit hard by the pandemic, and the government has rolled out aid programmes such as food packages to help those in need. 

Batubara has been accused of involvement in a bribery scheme linked to one such aid project. 

Officials have alleged that he received more than $1 million from two contractors that were appointed to supply basic food packages for people affected by the pandemic. 

For each package, Batubara would receive 10,000 rupiah, or $0.71, officials alleged. 

If found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of one billion rupiah ($70,000).

Citigroup names Jane Fraser as first woman CEO

rfi.fr – AFP, 10/09/2020

Citigroup named Jane Fraser as its next CEO, replacing Michael Corbat who
will retire in February Julian R. Photography/AFP

New York (AFP) - Citigroup named Jane Fraser as its next chief executive on Thursday, tapping a woman to lead a giant Wall Street bank for the first time.

She will take over the top job in February, replacing Michael Corbat who will retire.

Fraser, who has served as president and CEO of global consumer banking since 2019, will join the board of directors immediately, the bank said. She has held prior roles for Citi in Latin America and in investment banking.

"I am honored by the Board's decision and grateful to Mike for his leadership and support," Fraser said in a press release.

"Our balance sheet is strong and our commitment to serving our clients and communities is even stronger. I will do everything I can to make all our stakeholders proud of our firm as we continue to build a better bank and improve our returns."

The move comes as Citi pivots to a more challenging operating environment as large banks set aside billions of dollars to prepare for bad loans due to the coronavirus.

Other women have become CEOs of big financial companies or in related industries, such as Abigail Johnson at Fidelity Investments and Julie Sweet at Accenture. But in taking the helm of the fourth-biggest US bank by assets, Fraser joins a group of Wall Street CEOs that until now has been exclusively led by white men.

Her appointment to the top job had been telegraphed from her prior promotion in October 2019 to president and head of global consumer banking. Senior women at JPMorgan Chase are also in line to potentially take the top job to succeed Jamie Dimon, who is expected to retire in the coming years.

Corporate America is also under scrutiny over the paltry number of Black leaders in the wake of massive racial justice protests this year.

Industry faces headwinds

After stumbling badly during the subprime mortgage crisis, Citigroup recovered in the ensuing decade after the 2008 financial crisis.

From 2012 to 2019, the banking giant saw net income rise from $7 billion to $20 billion, Corbat said in the press release.

"We went from returning hardly any capital to returning nearly $80 billion in capital to our shareholders over the last six years," he said.

The improvement coincided with a post-2008 US economic expansion that ended abruptly with the coronavirus outbreak.

In the most recent quarter, Citigroup added $5.6 billion in reserves for bad loans, a factor in a 73 percent drop in profits to $1.3 billion. Large banks are also staring at a lengthy period of low interest rates, putting a damper on another source of profits.

"The pandemic has a grip on the economy and it doesn't seem likely to loosen until vaccines are widely available," Corbat said on a conference call with analysts.

The Scottish-born Fraser joined Citi in 2004 after earlier roles at Goldman Sachs and McKinsey & Company. She has spoken openly about being a working mother in finance, recounting in 2016 how she worked part-time at McKinsey.

Having children "humanized me," Fraser said in the 2016 appearance at the Americas Society. "There is nothing like having children to help you understand where your priorities are."

Fraser also recounted her sometimes unorthodox career moves, such as exiting as head of the private bank in London in 2013 to oversee a turnaround of the mortgage business from St. Louis, Missouri in the midwest of the United States.

"Everyone thought I was completely nuts," she said. "I knew I would grow. I knew I would a learn a completely different skill set."

Shares of Citigroup were flat at $51.41 in late-morning trading.

Indonesian transportation minister tests positive for COVID-19

The Jakarta Post, March 14, 2020

Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi (center) walks at Kertajati International
Airport in Majalengka, West Java, on March 1. The minister tested positive of
COVID-19, State Secretary Pratikno announced on Saturday evening. (Antara/
Dedhez Anggara)

Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi has tested positive for COVID-19.

State Secretary Pratikno announced on Saturday evening that Budi was identified as Case 76 in a previous Health Ministry announcement and was being treated at the Gatot Subroto Army Hospital.

He declined to say when Budi had been admitted to the hospital or when he had likely been infected.

Budi reportedly attended a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Pratikno said President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had appointed Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan as ad interim transportation minister.

Gatot Subroto Army Hospital doctors said Budi’s condition was improving.

Building an equal partnership of mutual respect

The Jakarta Post, Retno LP Marsudi, Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Jakarta,March 11, 2020

President Joko Widodo (right) accompanied by First Lady Iriana Joko Widodo (second left)
and Dutch King Willem Alexander (second right) accompanied by Queen Maxima planting
trees during a state visit to Bogor Palace, West Java, Tuesday (10/3/2020). (Antara/
Sigid Kurniawan)

“The ongoing global economic and geopolitical volatility will not keep Indonesia and the Netherlands from advancing their long-standing cooperation” — that may be the right tone to begin the narrative on the state visit of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima to Indonesia.

On Tuesday, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo greeted the Dutch king and queen at Bogor Palace in West Java.

The visit sends the clear message that the two countries aspire to advance their ties going forward. It will surely create a new momentum for the Indonesian-Dutch partnership. The visit also instils not only increased confidence of Dutch investment in Indonesia but also strategic trust in the long run.

The visit produces numerous concrete deliverables in various sectors at the government-to-government as well as the business-to-business level. These include eight government initiatives in important sectors such as sustainable palm oil production, cooperation on infectious diseases control, waste management, the circular economy, water management, aviation cooperation, capacity-building of healthcare professionals, as well as women, peace and security.

On the business side, the king’s 190-strong business delegation has met with hundreds of Indonesian business counterparts and concluded investment and business deals amounting to US$1 billion. These include agreements on dairy products, oil and gas, agriculture, infrastructure and renewable energy.

However, these achievements did not come overnight. In fact, in the last seven decades, both sides have taken significant steps to strengthen bilateral ties.

I was the Indonesian ambassador in The Hague in 2013, when Indonesia and the Netherlands signed a joint declaration on a comprehensive partnership that laid out the modalities for concrete cooperation. This was an important building block to mature our bilateral cooperation into what we have today and what we will harvest tomorrow.

After more than 70 years, it is undeniable that the bond between the two countries has had its share of challenges. While we cannot deny the past of Indonesia-Netherlands relations, we can choose to fully capitalize on the potential of future cooperation for the benefit of both nations.


Therefore, the goal for our shared future must be clear, which is pursuing a forward-looking partnership that really benefits both countries and peoples.

There are three things that the two countries should advance together to attain common goals for a solid and mutually beneficial partnership.

First and fundamentally, both countries must remain committed to the common values of mutual respect and principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Second, the Indonesian-Dutch partnership must produce long-term and concrete economic benefits for our two peoples.

The Netherlands is and should continue to be Indonesia’s strategic partner for trade and investment. In 2019, the Netherlands was Indonesia’s largest investment partner in the European region, the second-largest trading partner and the fourth-largest tourism partner.

Our political solidarity in furthering the common cause of sustainability is also strong. In promoting sustainable palm oil in Europe, for instance, it is evident that we can rely on the Netherlands as our friend. Last year, together with my colleague, Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch minister for foreign trade and cooperation development, we signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on joint production of sustainable palm oil in New York, the United States. King Willem-Alexander’s current visit has also brought an impetus toward the progression of sustainable production of palm oil through the conclusion of a technical arrangement that will focus on capacity-building for Indonesian smallholder farmers.

This is a good reflection of how trust is an important pillar of bilateral cooperation, as also exemplified through the Netherlands’ support in the establishment of the Indonesia-European Union Voluntary Partnership Agreement on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade in 2016.

Third, Indonesia and the Netherlands must continue to promote the universal common values of multilateralism, diplomacy and democracy, promoting habits of dialogue and peaceful dispute settlement to tackle shared global challenges amid rising tensions, intolerance and unilateralism.

Peacekeeping and counterterrorism are among our signature areas of collaboration on the world stage.

Indonesia and the Netherlands were among the core countries facilitating and supporting the Untied Nations' secretary-general’s Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative to rally member states and other crucial stakeholders to fulfil their obligation in strengthening UN peacekeeping operations.

Both nations also need to stand shoulder to shoulder in the global fight against terrorism and violent extremism.

Deepening the promotion of democracy, pluralism and tolerance are other important areas of cooperation to further develop. The Bali Democracy Forum could become the platform to jointly advance these shared values.

Women, peace and security shall be another hallmark of our bilateral cooperation. The partnership aspires to deepen the capacity of women to promote peace and security, in line with the formation of the ASEAN Women Mediators Network and the Afghanistan-Indonesia Women Network last March.


In conclusion, another historical step was taken with the king of the Netherlands’ visit to Indonesia, in the very year when Indonesia celebrates its 75th year of independence.

The history binding our two countries together is not an easy one. This dark period should not be repeated in the future.

King Alexander stated that “today, we warmly congratulate the people of Indonesia as you celebrate 75 years of independence. The past cannot be erased and will have to be acknowledged by each generation in turn.” King Alexander also expressed his regret and apologized for excessive violence on the part of the Dutch in those years.

Let us together build a better and stronger relationship, one that is based on mutual respect and mutual interests.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.

King Willem-Alexander and Indonesian president Joko Widodo. Photo: AP Photo/
Achmad Ibrahim, Pool 

Related Articles:


From left, Dutch Queen Máxima Zorreguieta Cerruti, Dutch King Willem-Alexander, 
President Joko Widodo and Education and Culture Minister Nadiem Makarim observe 
Prince Diponegoro's golden kris at the Bogor Palace in Bogor, West Java, on Tuesday. 
(Antara Photo/Sigid Kurniawan)

Bat for sale at Indonesia’s wildlife market despite virus warning

Yahoo – AFP, February 12, 2020

Scientists are debating how the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than
1,100 people in China and spread to dozens of countries around the world,
was transmitted to humans (AFP Photo/Ronny Adolof Buol)

Bats, rats and snakes are still being sold at an Indonesian market known for its wildlife offerings, despite a government request to take them off the menu over fears of a link to the deadly coronavirus.

Vendors at the Tomohon Extreme Meat market on Sulawesi island say business is booming and curious tourists keep arriving to check out exotic fare that enrages animal rights activists.

But scientists are debating how the new virus, which has killed more than 1,100 people in China and spread to dozens of countries around the world, was transmitted to humans.

A wildlife market in Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, is thought to be ground zero and there is suspicion it could have originated in bats.

The possible link wasn't on many radar screens at the Indonesian market, however.

Vendors at the Tomohon Extreme Meat market on Sulawesi island say
business is booming (AFP Photo/Ronny Adolof Buol)

Its grubby stalls feature a dizzying array of animals including giant snakes, rats impaled on sticks and charred dogs with their hair seared off by blowtorches -- a gory scene described by some critics as "like walking through hell".

Bat seller Stenly Timbuleng says he's still moving his fare for as much as 60,000 rupiah ($4.40) a kilogram to buyers in the area, where bats are a speciality in local cuisine.

"I'm selling between 40 and 60 kilograms every day," the 45-year-old told AFP.

"The virus hasn't affected sales. My customers still keep coming."

Restaurateur Lince Rengkuan -- who serves bats including their heads and wings stewed in coconut milk and spices -- says the secret is preparation.

"If you don't cook the bat well then of course it can be dangerous," she said.

Stalls at the Tomohon Extreme Meat market on Sulawesi island feature
a dizzying array of animals (AFP Photo/Ronny Adolof Buol)

"We cook it thoroughly and so far the number of customers hasn't gone down at all."

This despite a request from the local government and the health agency to take bats and other wildlife out of circulation -- a call that has been all but ignored.

"We're also urging people not to consume meat from animals suspected to be carriers of a fatal disease," said Ruddy Lengkong, head of the area's government trade and industry agency.

Indonesia has not yet reported a confirmed case of the virus.

In the capital Jakarta, vendors selling skinned snakes and cobra blood on a recent Saturday night didn't have any trouble finding takers.

"It's good for you, sir," said one vendor of his slithering fare.

"Cures and prevents all diseases."

Indonesia hits European Union with WTO lawsuit over palm oil

Yahoo – AFP, December 16, 2019

Indonesia has accused the European Union of discrimination against its palm
oil exports (AFP Photo/Mohd RASFAN)

Indonesia has filed a World Trade Organization lawsuit against the European Union over plans to phase out palm oil-based biofuel for cars, the trade ministry said.

The action could escalate a trade dispute between Indonesia -- the world's top palm oil producer - and the EU, which plans to end its use of biofuels by 2030, citing concerns over widespread deforestation caused by the sector.

The EU earlier imposed duties on imports of subsidised biodiesel from Indonesia saying it was needed to level the playing field for its producers.

In response to what it called "discriminative" policies against its key palm oil exports, Indonesia said it filed a complaint with the WTO last week.

"Indonesia officially sent a request for consultation on December 9, 2019 to the EU as the initial step for the lawsuit," Trade Minister Agus Suparmanto said in a statement Sunday.

Neighbouring Malaysia, the world's second-biggest palm oil producer, has also threatened WTO action against the EU.

Teresa Kok, the minister overseeing Malaysia's palm oil sector, told AFP on Monday that she will head to Europe in March, and a challenge will not be filed until after then.

She said she wanted to try to convince European officials to change course on her trip.

"I want to give my trip a chance and see whether I can avoid filing the case at the WTO," she added.

Palm oil is the world's most widely used vegetable oil and a key ingredient in a wide range of products from food to cosmetics.

But environmentalists say it drives deforestation, with huge swathes of Southeast Asian rainforest logged in recent decades to make way for palm plantations.

Iman Pambagyo, Indonesia's director general for international trade negotiations, said Jakarta had previously tried other bilateral avenues to reach an agreement, without success.

"We need to assert Indonesia's stance on EU policy," Pambagyo said, referring to the WTO complaint, and adding that he hoped for a "best solution".

Shoveled: Garuda Boss Fired for Smuggling Harley Davidson Bike and Brompton Bicycles

Jakarta Globe, NUR YASMIN, December 5, 2019

The disassembled parts of a smuggled Harley Davidson Shovelhead are shown 
by customs officials in Jakarta on Thursday. (B1 TV Photo)

Jakarta. Flag carrier Garuda Indonesia's president director I Gusti Ngurah Ashkara is soon to be fired for allegedly smuggling a Harley Davidson motorcycle and two Brompton bicycles, State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir said on Thursday.

The items were smuggled inside Garuda's brand new Airbus A330-900 Neo being delivered from its factory in Toulouse, France, in mid-November.

There were 22 passengers on the plane and four of them were Garuda directors: the president director, better known as Ari Ashkara, technical and services director Iwan Joeniarto, cargo and business development director Mohammas Iqbal and human resources director Heri Akhyar.

"As the SOE Minister, I will dismiss the Garuda president director. We will not stop there; we will look for other people who might have been involved in this case as well," Erick told a press conference in Jakarta.

The used Harley Davidson motorcycle had been disassembled prior to delivery and smuggled as parts. Customs officials found them wrapped in 15 boxes inside the plane's cargo area.

The Brompton bikes and accessories were found in three other boxes.

Erick said an audit by the customs office showed the smuggled items belonged to the president director, despite the baggage claim tags carrying different names.

Ari had instructed his subordinates to find him a classic Harley Davidson Shovelhead from the 1970s.

The used motorcycle was purchased in April 2019 with the help of a Garuda finance manager in Amsterdam.

"It's really sad that this [personal] transaction had to drag down an SOE," Erick said.

The Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhur Binsar Pandjaitan said during a visit to Tongxiang, China, on Thursday that he fully supported Erick's decision.

"[An act like] this will hurt our investment climate," he said.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati meanwhile said smuggling the Harley and the Bromptons had cost the country up to Rp 1.5 billion ($107,000) in unpaid taxes.

"The Harley bike is valued at Rp 800 million and the Brompton bicycles cost Rp 50-60 million each," Sri Mulyani said.

"Everyone should always obey existing regulations," she told reporters.

Indonesia’s Jokowi kicks off new term at heavily guarded ceremony

Yahoo – AFP, Haeril HALIM, October 20, 2019

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (C) said his final term would be
aimed at eradicating poverty (AFP Photo/ADEK BERRY)

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo was sworn in for a second term on Sunday, as helicopters flew overhead and troops kept watch in the capital Jakarta -- days after Islamist militants tried to assassinate his top security minister.

Foreign heads of state, lawmakers and political rivals looked on as Widodo, 58, and Vice President Ma'ruf Amin, 76, read an oath to start a five-year tenure leading the world's biggest Muslim-majority nation.

Outside parliament, red-and-white Indonesian flags dotted parts of the city, but celebrations were muted with supporters outnumbered by some 30,000 security personnel deployed amid fears of another attack.

Demonstrations were also banned on Sunday as extremist violence continues to plague Indonesia.

Several thousand supporters, many wearing T-shirts bearing the leader's image, watched the ceremony on a big screen near Jakarta's national monument.

"I was worried Islamic (hardliners) would take over the country if he lost," supporter Suprihatini, who goes by one name, told AFP.

"I'm Muslim, but I don't want that kind of movement here," the 53-year-old added.

Widely known as Jokowi, the president said his final term would be aimed at eradicating poverty and catapulting the nation of some 260 million into a developed country with one of the world's top five economies by 2045.

"I'm calling on ministers, public officials and bureaucrats to take these targets seriously," he told parliament, adding that officials not committed to his goals would be sacked.

In Jakarta, supporters carried a 200-metre (655 foot) Indonesian flag along the streets, while Jokowi fans erected a seven-metre (23 foot) tumpeng in his honour -- a towering rendition of a popular cone-shaped dish -- in the country's second-biggest city Surabaya.

'Critical times'

Jokowi, a popular, heavy metal-loving former businessman from outside the political and military elite, was hailed as Indonesia's answer to Barack Obama when he was first elected in 2014, partly on a roads-to-airports infrastructure drive.

But his leadership has been under mounting criticism after a wave of crises that threaten to cast a shadow over his final term.

Challenges facing the president range from nationwide anti-government demonstrations -- in which three students died -- and smog-belching forest fires that sparked diplomatic tensions with Indonesia's neighbours, to deadly unrest in Papua province and a slowdown in Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

It marked a stark reversal of fortune just months after Jokowi scored a thumping re-election victory against a former military general.

"This is the weakest point in Jokowi's political leadership," said Arya Fernandes, a researcher at the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

"It's a test for the president in critical times."

Protests erupted last month across the archipelago that were among the biggest student rallies since mass demonstrations toppled the Suharto dictatorship in 1998.

Jokowi's inauguration comes a little over a week after the country's chief security minister was stabbed in an attack by two members of a local extremist outfit allied to the Islamic State group.

Two suspects were arrested at the scene, while dozens of suspected militants have since been detained in a country-wide dragnet following the assassination attempt on Wiranto, a former general who goes by one name. The 72-year-old is recovering in hospital.

Jokowi's new term also comes amid criticism that Indonesia's two decades of democratic reforms are being eroded under the watch of a man once lauded by Time magazine as "A New Hope".

Choosing conservative cleric Amin as vice president has also thrown Indonesia's reputation for tolerant Islam into question.

Jokowi's administration appeared caught off guard in September's protests that saw thousands of students hit the streets to demonstrate against a raft of divisive reforms, including banning pre-marital sex and changes that critics said would weaken the anti-graft agency.

Indonesian student dies in law-change protests

Yahoo – AFP, Denji Sari, September 26, 2019

The death appeared to mark the first fatality in days of street battles across
Indonesia (AFP Photo/STR)

An Indonesian student died Thursday as thousands hit the streets nationwide in a wave of opposition to a major overhaul of the country's criminal code and a bid to weaken its anti-corruption agency, police said.

The death appeared to mark the first fatality in days of street battles across the Southeast Asian country, which have left hundreds injured and sparked a call from Amnesty International to probe what it described as "massive police violence" against protesters.

The 21-year-old victim was rushed to hospital suffering from a chest wound and later died as riots erupted in Kendari city on Sulawesi island, where the local parliament was torched, authorities said.

But police denied playing a role in the death, amid social media claims that the engineering student was shot.

"There was an injured student among the crowd. He was taken to the hospital and declared dead as doctors tried to save him. He had a wound on his right chest, but I cannot confirm what kind of injury it was," Southeast Sulawesi police spokesman Harry Golden Hart told Metro TV.

Hundreds have been injured in the protests against a major overhaul of 
the country's criminal code (AFP Photo/Juni Kriswanto)

"None of our officers carried live bullets... or even rubber bullets," he added.

The unrest was sparked by a proposed bill that includes dozens of law changes -- from criminalising pre-marital sex and restricting sales of contraceptives, to making it illegal to insult the president.

There has also been a backlash against a separate bill that critics fear would dilute the powers of Indonesia's corruption-fighting agency -- known as the KPK -- including its ability to wire-tap graft suspects.

The demonstrations across the archipelago are among the biggest since mass street protests in 1998 brought down the three-decade Suharto dictatorship.

'Feedback'

Passage of the controversial changes has now been delayed.

The demonstrations across the archipelago are among the biggest since mass 
street protests in 1998 brought down the three-decade Suharto dictatorship
(AFP Photo/CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN)

And, on Thursday, President Joko Widodo appeared to backtrack on plans to press ahead with the anti-corruption agency law, saying he would consider revising it.

"There was a lot of feedback given to me" about the law, Widodo said during a televised press conference.

"Of course I'll consider (a revision) and after making a decision, I will announce it."

Earlier Thursday, officials said more than 500 students had been arrested after a night of street battles in downtown Jakarta between molotov-cocktail throwing protesters and riot police who shot tear gas into the crowds.

Meanwhile, a mass of students stormed and occupied the local parliament building in Sumatra's Padang city Wednesday.

Most of the Jakarta students were set free, but some were still being held after police found knives and other sharp weapons in their possession, police said.

Students have issued a list of demands including scrapping some of the 
criminal-code changes (AFP Photo/Bahauddin Raja BASO)

Students have issued a list of demands including scrapping some of the criminal-code changes, withdrawing troops from Indonesia's restive Papua region, and halting forest fires in Sumatra and Borneo that have unleashed toxic haze across Southeast Asia.

A vote on the criminal-code bill was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but Widodo has called for a delay in passing the controversial changes that could affect millions of Indonesians, including gay and heterosexual couples who might face jail for having sex outside wedlock, or having an affair.

Updating Indonesia's Dutch colonial-era criminal code has been debated for decades and appeared set to pass in 2018 before momentum fizzled out.

A renewed push this year, backed by Islamic groups, was met with a wave of criticism over what many saw as a draconian law that invaded the bedrooms of a nation with some 260 million people -- the fourth most populous on Earth.