Jakarta governor to take protesters' demand to repeal labour law to President Widodo (update)

A burning bus station is seen during a protest against the government's proposed labour reforms in a controversial "jobs creation" bill in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 8, 2020 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. - Reuters

JAKARTA, Oct 9 (Reuters): The governor of Indonesia's capital on Friday said he would inform President Joko Widodo of protesters' demand for a polarising new labour law to be repealed, as a growing number of regional leaders oppose the new legislation.

Thousands took to the streets of cities across Indonesia in the past three days, part of protests and national strikes against a law they say undermines labour rights and weakens environmental protections.

Clashes erupted in some cities, including in Jakarta where protesters burnt public transport facilities and damaged police posts.

"Yesterday I also met with the protesters and we had brief discussion with them, I'd told them that we had listened to your voices and I will convey the message," Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan told Reuters. He did not go as far as saying he would join the call for the law to be repealed.

At least four other governors have told protesters they would write to the president asking for the law to be cancelled, according to their statements and local media reports.

Repealing the law would prevent further clashes "that could create prolong instability amid a pandemic and an economic recession", West Kalimantan Govenor Sutarmidji said in a statement.

The president has yet to make any public statement following Monday's passage of the jobs bill into law, but his ministers have defended it, saying protests were triggered by false news and that the legislation would improve people's welfare by welcoming more investment.

Jakarta police on Thursday detained about 1,000 demonstrators, while hundreds were arrested in other cities.

Most of those detained were released by Friday morning, Jakarta police spokesman Yusri Yunus said.

Workers cleaning public facilities that have been destroyed and burnt during a protest that turned into violence during the new controversial law which critics fear will favour investors at the expense of labour rights and the environment in Jakarta on Friday (Oct 9, 2020). - AFPWorkers cleaning public facilities that have been destroyed and burnt during a protest that turned into violence during the new controversial law which critics fear will favour investors at the expense of labour rights and the environment in Jakarta on Friday (Oct 9, 2020). - AFP

Police did not expect a fourth day of protests in the capital on Friday, he said.

Said Iqbal, president of trade union KSPI, among the biggest group behind the protests, said there no was planned rally for Friday, but another labour leader on Thursday evening pledged to continue demonstrating.

Jakarta resident Nathan Tarigan feared clashes would escalate.

"I'm afraid if the government and stakeholders of the state aren't wise, don't want to listen, something bigger can happen and the state can break," the 50-year-old said.

Earlier foreign media reports stated that protesters set fires to police posts, metro stations and barricades in Jakarta on Thursday (Oct 8) night 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 officers were deployed on Thursday to block access to government buildings in central Jakarta failed to stop protesters from making their way to the heart of the capital.

Tear gas was fired near the presidential palace in Jakarta on Thursday afternoon, with clashes erupting at around 2pm.

Some protesters burned tyres, vandalised bus stops and dismantled partitions of a construction site while others were seen smashing bricks and concretes into smaller pieces to be hurled at the police.

At 4pm, more tear gas was fired as police tried to push protesters back from their original positions.

Black smoke rose across the capital late Thursday afternoon and into the night, with protesters burning public transport facilities and damaging police posts.

The operator of Jakarta's MRT rail network said underground stations had been closed.

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. - Reuters

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