What compelled protest mobs to swarm Indonesian downtowns Monday? Where tire bonfires roared, masked men flung rocks and riot cops fired rubber bullets?
20 cents. That's how much Indonesia's government, which already subsidizes the cost of gas, hiked the price for one liter of fuel. In doing so, they raised the current price of roughly 44 cents to a price that would delight most Americans: the equivalent of $2.40 per gallon.
The rallies have drawn huge crowds — 4,000 in Jakarta by one estimate — in cities across the archipelago. The Jakarta Globe reports more than 80 arrests, scuffles with cops and scores of injuries.
Why so much fury over so little cash?
It's about more than gas. Fuel hikes raise the cost of basic staples — noodles, eggs, soap, etc. — in a country where half the population live off $2 per day. For families living on the edge, that can mean the difference between dinner and school uniforms.
Yet both opponents and proponents of the hike argue their position will benefit the poor in Indonesia, the world's fourth-largest nation and third-largest democracy. Those who want to wean the population off cheap fuel, such as Indonesia's president and the World Bank, want more of the whopping $20 billion poured each year into the subsidy to go towards roads, schools and hospitals.
Those who defend the subsidy — stone-chucking, masked teenagers among them — simply want to fend off higher prices and fear the money will vanish into the pockets of corrupt lawmakers.
These are some of the images from the raucous protests across Indonesian archipelago.
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