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Police scandal sparks mass protests

Wiretaps reveal police framed members of the KPK, President Yudhoyono’s primary weapon against corruption. Facebook groups orchestrate public protests. Aceh outlaws women's right to wear tight pants. Mining giant Newmont sells 10 percent stake. Furniture exports take a dive. And Indonesia adds meteorites to its long list of natural disasters.

Top News: Indonesians took to the streets on Nov. 1 and again on Nov. 8 in the largest demonstrations since the protests of the late 1990s that led to the downfall of the country’s longtime ruler, Gen. Suharto. Thousands gathered across the country in response to revelations, revealed by wiretap recordings played during court proceedings, that senior law enforcement officials had conspired to frame members of the Corruption Eradication Commission, known as the KPK.


Police arrested two KPK deputy commissioners on Oct. 28 and charged them with bribery and abuse of power. The arrests were the culmination of months of skirmishing between the two institutions after the KPK, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s main weapon against rampant corruption, began focusing on the national police force. Public outrage, however, forced Yudhoyono, who just won a second term on promises to end corruption, to intervene. He called for the release of the two deputies and for an investigation into the conspiracy. Then, on Nov. 5, he called for the resignations of the men named in the recordings, Deputy Attorney General Abdul Hakim Ritonga and Police Commissioner General Susno Duadji. A third man, the brother of a fugitive businessman, was detained.


The scandal has paralyzed the KPK, which has been essential in fighting corruption in Indonesia and improving the country’s much-maligned investment climate. The scandal has also thrown the president’s agenda for his second term into a tailspin, forcing him to focus on the reformation of what he calls that country’s “legal mafia,” the network of corrupt officials within the police, attorney general’s office and courts. Displays of public outrage will likely continue until the country’s legal institutions are reformed. Several Facebook groups have been created to support the KPK and organize protests. One such group has reached almost 1 million members.


Meanwhile, Aceh continues to buck Indonesia’s moderate Muslim trend. Not long after the conservative Muslim province passed legislation that would allow adulterers to be stoned, West Aceh officials outlawed tight pants for women, insisting they wear drab government-issued skirts. Outrage ensued.


Also, only one month before the five-year anniversary of the tsunami, a German aid worker was shot and nearly killed while working in the capital of Banda Aceh. Sporadic violence has plagued aid workers in recent years, mostly the work of petty criminals.  


Money: American mining giant Newmont has sold the first 10 percent of its shares to a consortium of local governments and a company affiliated with the controversial businessman and former government minister, Aburizal Bakrie. Under Newmont’s 1986 contract of work with the Indonesian government, it must divest 51 percent of its ownership to domestic entities by the end of March 2010. But disputes over the value of the shares and Newmont’s concern about selling to Bakrie have prevented those sales. Newmont runs the huge Batu Hijau copper and gold mine on Sumbawa island in Eastern Indonesia.


French retail chain Carrefour said it would fight an Indonesian court ruling that it had violated monopoly laws by buying a chain of of small convenience stores called Alfamart.


The country’s furniture export industry is in dire straits, forcing factory closings and layoffs of nearly one million workers. Although Indonesia’s economy remains strong, exports have been hit hard by the global economic downturn, particularly in the furniture sector, which will see an estimated 40 percent drop in exports by year-end.


President Yudhoyono has outlined new targets of economic growth and poverty reduction for his second term, which ends in 2014. The president said his cabinet would target a growth rate of 7 percent, reduce unemployment by 5 percent and decrease the number of people living below the poverty line by 8 percent. The World Bank estimates that more than half of Indonesia’s 240 million people live on less the $2 a day.


Elsewhere: Jakarta residents continue to struggle with rolling blackouts caused by malfunctions in power stations belonging to the state electric company, PLN. A fire at one station in South Jakarta in early October has created more problems, forcing the company to shut down various power grids throughout Jakarta every week.


A meteorite struck near the island of Sulawesi on Oct. 8, causing an enormous explosion that some residents thought was an earthquake. Indonesia can now add meteorites to its long list of disasters. The blast released energy equal to 50 kilotons of dynamite — more than three times the force of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.


Bullies are becoming a problem in Jakarta schools. A series of attacks in recent years has led some to ask why. Most recently, a boy was jumped and beaten unconscious for walking past a hallway “belonging to seniors.”