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Anti-corruption officials arrested

Arrests at the Corruption Eradication Commission creates a media frenzy. Meanwhile, Transparency International rates Indonesia less corrupt than last year. Two ferry accidents occur on the same day. Flash floods and landslides hit Aceh and Java. A new mining regulation might spook investors. Foreign journalists get booted for covering a controversial paper plant. And gunmen target Western aid workers in Aceh's tsunami zone.

 Top News: The Indonesian media continues to be saturated with news from the ongoing graft case involving the police, the attorney general’s office and the Corruption Eradication Commission, known here as the KPK.


The three institutions have been in a standoff for weeks after the police arrested two KPK deputy commissioners on charges of taking bribes and abuses of power on Oct. 28. A week after those arrests, a wiretap recording played in court revealed a complex plan to frame the deputies that involved a senior police official, a deputy attorney general and the brother of a fugitive businessman.


The Indonesian public erupted in protest on Nov. 1 and again on Nov. 8. Weekly rallies have continued as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono mulled his response to the controversy. The president finally responded to an independent investigation on Monday, but his highly anticipated speech proved disappointing to activists.


Although Yudhoyono said he believed the case against the two deputies should be dropped, he stopped short of ordering the police to do so. Instead, in his trademark way, he tossed the ball back into the court, leaving it to the police to decide how they should proceed.


The attorney general said Tuesday that he would consider dropping the case but if he does so, it will be reluctantly. The energetic KPK has long been a thorn in the side of both the attorney general and the police, both of which are considered the country’s most corrupt institutions. Yudhoyono, for his part, promised to work toward cleaning up what he has called the “court mafia,” a web of corruption and power retained by the police, the attorney general and the courts.


Remarkably, despite all this, Transparency International said Indonesia has managed to improve its overall corruption ranking this year. It now ranks 111 out of 180 countries. (If you’re curious, New Zealand ranked number 1. The United States placed 19, just above Barbados.)


The country continues to be wracked by all manner of disasters, both man-made and natural. A ferry sank off the coast of eastern Sumatra, killing dozens, on Nov. 21. In a separate accident on the same day, another ferry, carrying 278 people, ran aground. Survivors and families of the most recent accident said the ferry was over-capacity. It was also sailing during a storm. It is common for ferries to overload passengers and sail in all kinds of weather in their attempts to maximize profits.


Meanwhile, flash floods struck eastern parts of Aceh, also on Nov. 21, forcing the evacuation of almost 50,000 people. A landslide in central Java the week before buried more than 50 houses.


Money: In a surprising move, Indonesia’s new forestry minister, Zulkifli Hasan, ordered a temporary moratorium on all of activities involving Asia Pacific Resources International Holding Limited (APRIL), the largest pulp and paper company operating in Indonesia.


APRIL works primarily in Riau province in eastern Indonesia. Greenpeace and other environmental groups have long accused APRIL of destructive logging and burning practices in the region, greatly contributing to the release of greenhouse gases. The former forestry minister, who is now under investigation for corruption, first approved APRIL’s forest concessions. Hasan said he wanted to be sure there were no “irregularities” in the procedure, a euphemism for corruption.


In other resources news, a new government mining regulation might spook investors. The rule would limit contract work that can be outsourced and favors local businesses. The new law replaces the ancient, 41-year old former law but is putting pressure on the new energy minister who started work last month with the hope of increasing investment and output in the mining sector.


In a decidedly mixed message, immigration officials in Riau province arrested, questioned and swiftly deported two foreign journalists who were reporting on APRIL’s activities in Sumatra. Officials in Jakarta did not move to intervene. Police in Riau accused the two journalists of planning to take part in “illegal activities.”


The two journalists, Raimundo Bultrini from the Italian l’Espresso weekly and Kumkum Dasgupta, an editor with the Hindustan Times of India, were forced out of the country after trying to reach a Greenpeace camp.


“I realized that I was caught in a crossfire of sorts between Greenpeace on the one side and powerful companies and the government on the other,” wrote Dagupta in his account of the affair published in the Hindustan Times.


Government officials also deported 13 Greenpeace activists.


Elsewhere: Several shootings aimed at foreigners in Aceh in recent weeks have raised concerns about the safety of foreign aid workers in the area only one month before the five-year anniversary of the 2006 tsunami that obliterated the capital city of Banda Aceh, killing 170,000 people there.


Gunmen opened fire on the house of two American academics Nov. 21, though no one was injured. A week earlier a motorcycle-riding gunmen fired on the home of the local representative for the European Union. And earlier this month the representative of the German branch of the Red Cross was badly wounded in another shooting incident.


Police have yet to find the gunmen but said they suspected their motive was to drive foreigners out of the province.