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Indonesia police fire tear gas, water cannon at protesters

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Indonesian police deploy tear gas and water cannon against thousands of students protesting against extending the presidential mandate. AFP

Indonesia police fire tear gas, water cannon at protesters

Indonesian police deployed tear gas and water cannon against thousands of students protesting Monday against extending the presidential term limit, after rumours swirled for weeks about a potential change to the country’s constitution.

The Southeast Asian country’s next election is in 2024 and President Joko Widodo would not be eligible to run as Indonesia places a two-term limit on its leader.

But senior ministers and several political parties last month suggested the election should be delayed and the constitution amended to allow presidents to serve more than two terms.

Monday saw about 2,000 university students gather in front of the House of Representatives building. Indonesia has seen similar rallies sprout across the country in the last week.

“We demand the House of Representatives not betray the constitution by making an amendment and we firmly reject delaying the 2024 election,” protest coordinator Luthfi Yufrizal said in a statement.

Police later fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse the protesters, according to AFP reporters on the scene.

Jakarta police chief Fadil Imran said those tactics were used after a group of protesters assaulted Ade Armando, an academic widely seen to be pro-Widodo.

Armando had suffered injuries on his head after being trampled by angry protesters, police said.

An unverified video showed Armando bleeding, his face badly swollen, as police officers hauled him away.

Imran said six officers were also attacked and injured while attempting to evacuate the academic.

“We promised to take a strict action against anyone who broke the law and is the mastermind of this incident,” the police chief said, adding that a total of 80 protesters were detained.

The debate on delaying the election and extending the presidential term has gathered steam since March, despite Widodo himself rebuking the suggestions multiple times.

On Sunday, he reiterated that it was “speculation”.

“The schedules for the presidential and regional election of 2024 have been agreed. It’s all clear,” Widodo said in a tweet. “Don’t be provoked by insignificant political interests.”

But critics said his objection to the proposals came far too late, only fuelling the furore.

Twice-elected Widodo – popularly known as Jokowi – enjoys wide support in the country of 270 million, but dissatisfaction has increasingly mounted as Southeast Asia’s biggest economy sees a slowdown amid pandemic-spurred global shortages and residents grapple with rising fuel prices.

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