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Friday, January 16, 1998 Published at 10:13 GMT



Despatches

Indonesians protest over food prices
image: [ The rising cost of food has led to violent protests ]
The rising cost of food has led to violent protests

A supermarket in Indonesia has been burnt down by a crowd who were protesting against increased food prices. This is the latest in a series of violent incidents in Indonesia over the past few days connected to the rising cost of living. Yesterday the International Monetary Fund and the Indonesian government agreed on a package of far-reaching reforms to try to rebuild economic confidence. But as our Jakarta correspondent Jonathan Head reports, life for ordinary Indonesians is likely to become more difficult in the short-term:

The town of Jember in east Java is reported to be calm again after a large crowd burnt down a three-storey supermarket. Residents say police and troops are still patrolling the streets.

They say gangs of youths on motorbikes went on the rampage, throwing rocks at several shops and looting their contents. The incident follows a number of attacks on shops over the past few days by people angry over the rising cost of food.

The authorities have promised that there are sufficient food stocks in the country, but many shops are charging up to double their normal rates.

Prices often go up in the weeks preceding the Muslim Eid-al-Fitr celebrations (which is observed at the end of Ramadan), but the situation this year has been made worse by a drought in much of the country and by the effects of the currency's devaluation.

The hardship for many families has been compounded by increased unemployment - another consequence of the economic downturn.

The agreement on structural reforms reached by the government and IMF is unlikely to bring any immediate relief. Some of its provisions, like the abolition of fuel subsidies, will actually make life much harder for poorer Indonesians.

The security forces say they are prepared to deal with any further outbreaks of unrest, but in the past they have often been caught off-guard.

With most analysts predicting that the number of violent incidents will increase over the next few months, the armed forces are likely to find themselves even more thinly stretched.






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