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Police clash with students and workers protesting against labour-law changes in Indonesia

PROTESTS in many Indonesian cities turned violent today as thousands of workers and students mobilised against a new law that threatens workers’ rights and harms the environment.

Clashes broke out near the presidential palace in the capital Jakarta as riot police tried to disperse the crowds.

Police fired tear gas at the protesters, among them striking workers and students from high schools and universities, as they tried to approach the palace compound — turning roads into a smoke-filled battleground. Protesters responded by hurling rocks and bottles.

One group burnt a traffic-police post at a junction near the palace, while other protesters set fires to tyres and fibreglass road barriers.

Similar clashes occurred in large cities all over the country, including Yogyakarta, Medan, Makassar, Manado and Bandung, the capital of West Java province, where police arrested 209 people during two days of angry protests.

Organisers had called for the three-day national strike, which began on Tuesday, to demand that the new legislation be revoked.

The Job Creation Law, approved by parliament on Monday, is set to hurt workers by reducing severance pay, removing restrictions on manual labour by foreign workers, increasing the use of outsourcing and converting monthly salaries to hourly wages.

It also weakens environmental assessments of business projects.

“We vow to continue returning to the streets until the new law is revoked,” said Andi Khiyarullah, a protest organiser from the Indonesia Alliance’s student executive body.

Police in Jakarta blocked streets leading to parliament, preventing labour groups from holding a mass rally there, and detained at least 200 high school students who attempted to reach the compound.

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