JAKARTA – Indonesian police used tear gas and water cannon on Thursday to break up a rally by supporters of the ex-general who lost last month's presidential election, as a court was set to uphold his opponent's victory.
As judges at the Constitutional Court started reading the lengthy verdict to Prabowo Subianto's challenge of an election won by Joko Widodo, which could take several hours, police responded to a thousands-strong crowd with force. The protesters tried to force their way past lines of riot police and barbed wire blocking the road to the court, prompting officers to fire multiple volleys of tear gas and water cannon into the crowd.
Protesters tried to climb over the wire and drive through with trucks, and about 100 managed to get past the barricade before police started firing, an AFP reporter at the scene said. Some police chased supporters away and hit them with batons. It lasted only a few minutes and the crowd dispersed afterwards, although protesters started gathering at the same site again shortly afterwards.
“We warned them, but the demonstrators did not stop so we had to force them to disperse,” said Jakarta police spokesman Rikwanto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. He said that the crowd had been about 5,000-strong. Three people were injured when the protesters were dispersed, and four people have been arrested.
While Prabowo continues to insist he has won, independent analysts expect the nine-judge panel to reject his challenge. The verdict cannot be appealed. Both Prabowo, a top military figure in the era of dictator Suharto with a chequered human rights record, and Widodo, the reform-minded governor of Jakarta, declared victory at the July 9 election.
But official results released after a two-week count across the vast archipelago showed Widodo won a decisive, six-point victory after the hardest-fought, most polarising election since authoritarian rule ended in 1998.