Protesters in Indonesia’s easternmost region of Papua have set buildings ablaze in the provincial capital Jayapura, forcing the state power firm to cut off electricity in some districts, state media and an executive of the utility said.
Police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators who also set fire to cars and threw stones at shops and offices on Thursday, state news agency Antara said. Protesters also torched a local parliament office. “Several public facilities and properties were damaged by rioters,” national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said.
In the wake of Thursday’s unrest, Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda called for UN to act on the crisis, the result of related protests about racism, discrimination and calls for independence. “Indonesian security services may turn it into a bloodbath,” Wenda said, referring to the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in which hundreds of mourners at a funeral were shot by Indonesian forces.
The region has been racked by civil unrest for two weeks over reports of racial and ethnic discrimination. Some protesters are also demanding an independence vote – a move ruled out by the security minister on Thursday.
Indonesian president Joko Widodo called for calm on Thursday evening, telling reporters he had ordered “firm action against anarchist and racist actions”. He promised to further develop Papua.
During the riot in Jayapura, the protesters torched a building housing the offices of state-controlled telecoms firm Telekomunikasi Indonesia. The company said in a statement it could not assess the full damage yet.
The utility company PLN has turned off power in areas around the torched building, said regional director Ahmad Rofik, and state energy firm Pertamina said it had shut several petrol stations in Jayapura because of the protest.
National military spokesman Major General Sisriadi said more than 1,000 people had taken part in the protest.
Police spokesman Prasetyo told broadcaster Kompas TV: “The condition is gradually recovering.” News website Kompas.com said demonstrators had begun to disperse.
Gunfire broke out a day earlier between protesters and police in the town of Deiyai, about 500km (310 miles) from Jayapura.
Police said one soldier and two civilians were killed in the incident, while a separatist group said six had been shot dead. The military dismissed that as a hoax.
Police have deployed 300 mobile brigade personnel to the towns of Deiyai, Paniai and Jayapura after Wednesday’s incident, media quoted police chief Tito Karnavian as saying.
A separatist movement has simmered for decades in Papua, while there have also been frequent complaints of rights abuses by Indonesian security forces.
The spark for the latest unrest was a racist slur against Papuan students, who were hit by tear gas in their dormitory and detained in the city of Surabaya on the main island of Java on 17 August, Indonesia’s Independence Day, for allegedly desecrating a national flag. They were later released without charge.
Papua and West Papua provinces, the resource-rich western part of the island of New Guinea, formed a Dutch colony that was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticised UN-backed referendum in 1969.
On Thursday, chief security minister Wiranto said the government would not entertain any demand for an independence vote, according to Kompas.com. “Demands for a referendum, I think, is out of place. Demands for referendum I think must not be mentioned. Why? Because the unity of the Republic of Indonesia is final,” Wiranto was quoted as saying.
The government has cut internet access in the region since last week to stop people sharing “provocative” messages that could trigger more violence.