Indonesian police have used water cannons, fired tear gas and arrested scores of people in a failed attempt to contain increasingly chaotic protests against a controversial job creation law that critics say disadvantages millions of workers.
Up to 20,000 students and workers took to the streets Thursday across several cities in the Southeast Asian country for a third straight day as photos and videos uploaded to social media showed fires burning and protesters clashing with police.
The law, which was passed on Monday, was designed to attract local and foreign investment in hopes of creating more work for the country’s growing population of about 275 million at a time when the coronavirus outbreak is sapping economic growth and eliminating jobs.
But critics say it infringes on labor rights, makes it easier to fire workers, and encourages outsourcing of jobs, among other complaints.
The Indonesian government is already under fire for its inability to contain the pandemic, which has led to one of the worst outbreaks in Southeast Asia. Last week an Indonesian journalist conducted an interview with an empty chair after the embattled health minister failed to come on the show.
Protests also reached the capital Jakarta where some 400 demonstrators were arrested and dozens were injured, according to reports. Police elsewhere in the country refused to issue rally permits citing rising coronavirus cases.
In one video uploaded to Instagram, protesters can be seen hurling rocks and other items at a police van. In other clips, protesters amass outside the presidential palace and a fire engulfs what appears to be a bus stop in Jakarta.
Airlangga Hartarto, coordinating minister of economic affairs, blamed the large-scale demonstration on "intellectuals" in an interview with CNBC Indonesia.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo was not in Jakarta and the hashtag #JokowiKabur (Jokowi runs away) trended on Twitter. But a senior official said he was on a working visit outside the city on Thursday.