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Protesters torch police posts as opposition mounts to new Indonesia law

Thousands of protesters set fire to barricades and police posts in the Indonesian capital Thursday as opposition mounted to a controversial new investment law critics say will harm labour rights and the environment.

Tens of thousands of people have protested in cities across the archipelago since Monday’s passing of the bill, which seeks to attract foreign investment by cutting red tape around taxation, labour and environment regulations.

Labour activists and green groups have slammed the legislation, however, with Amnesty International saying it is “catastrophic” for workers.

Nearly 13,000 police deployed Thursday to block access to government buildings in central Jakarta failed to stop protesters from making their way to the heart of the capital.

The protesters set fire to barricades and torched several bus stops and police traffic posts.

Police had banned the protests on the grounds it could spread the coronavirus. At least 300,000 people have been infected in the world’s fourth most-populous nation so far, and more than 11,000 have died.

Experts believe the true figures are much higher, however, but hidden by a lack of testing.

– Protesters with coronavirus –

Jakarta police spokesman Yusri Yunus said around 1,000 protesters had been tested since being detained by Thursday.

Some “34 of them are reactive for Covid-19”, he said, adding they would be isolated and tested again.

Workers and students also clashed with police in Makassar, Medan, Malang and Yogyakarta.

“We want the law to be cancelled,” Muhammad Sidharta told AFP in Bandung, West Java, adding the regulation “hurts Indonesian people, not only workers like me”.

Although enforcement is sometimes patchy, Indonesia has tough labour laws — particularly involving foreign companies.

Edi, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name, said he joined protests in Makassar on Sulawesi island because the law affected him as a worker.

“Earlier, we already had regulations on minimum wage but still many companies did not comply with it,” he said.

“The new law scraps the regulations on that and companies will determine wages arbitrarily.”

Indonesians also expressed their anger online, with hackers blocking access to parliament’s website and changing its name to “Council of Traitors”.

They also created an account on the Indonesia e-commerce platform Tokopedia and put parliament “on sale” for a pittance, according to media reports.

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