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Friday, February 13, 1998 Published at 16:58 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

'Worst' riots yet in Indonesia
image: [ A currency collapse has added to Indonesia's woes ]
A currency collapse has added to Indonesia's woes

Thousands of rioters went on the rampage in Indonesia on Friday, burning shops, houses and cars in protest against soaring food prices, according to police reports.

Disturbances were reported in Losari, about 125miles (200km) east of Jakarta, Gebang, Pamanukan and Jatiwangi - all on the main island of Java. Other towns also reported unrest.

It is thought to be the worst day of violence so far in the protests linked to the ongoing economic crisis, which has resulted in soaring inflation and mass unemployment.

According to witnesses, angry mobs looted, threw rocks and burned buildings and cars, again targeting the property of Chinese traders who they blame for price hikes.

Reports said at least one Chinese church was raided and its furniture burned. However, no serious injuries or arrests were immediately reported.

[ image: President Suharto: 'get tough' warning]
President Suharto: 'get tough' warning
The worst trouble was in Losari where more than 3,000 people are reported to have rioted. Police said 30 Chinese shops were damaged.

Goods were looted and set on fire in the main street before hundreds of police and troops broke up the mobs.

Police said dozens of shops in Bandung, the provincial capital of West Java, were closed amid fears that the violence would spread.

The latest round of protests erupted a day after President Suharto told the armed forces to be prepared to take tough measures against threats to national unity.

Mr Suharto is the only candidate for president in next month's elections to the People's Consultative Assembly and is expected to win a seventh five-year term.

The President also approved changes to the current armed forces leadership, with the new military leaders all staunch nationalists.

"There doesn't seem any end to it," said an analyst with a Jakarta-based foreign company.

"Every day you think there might be some good news. But every day it's all bad."

Most major embassies are understood to have stepped up efforts to register their nationals and to have reviewed plans for an emergency.

Over the past two weeks there have been riots in more than 15 towns and cities as well as several street demonstrations in Jakarta, including one which was broken up by security forces.

Meanwhile, the collapse in the rupiah has left most Indonesian companies technically bankrupt, with private foreign debt put at over $73 billion.

But President Suharto appeared to be pressing ahead with a controversial fixed-rate system to stabilise the currency.

US economist Steve Hanke, Mr Suharto's special adviser, said the President had told him that a currency board was the option with the least risk for the country, despite criticism from theIMF and Washington.

Meetings of a Steering Committee of international banks representing lenders and a contact committee of borrowers were held separately in Singapore and Jakarta on Friday. Moves to get them together are expected to start next week.

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