Wednesday, May 26, 1999

Thousands march for independence and democracy

Thousands march for independence and democracy

By Chris Latham

On May 21 student protests in Jakarta marking the first anniversary of Suharto's resignation were attacked by the Indonesian military (ABRI). The protests reflected growing anger among students that the "new" regime in Indonesia has not brought Suharto to justice for the crimes of his New Order dictatorship. ABRI attacked the students when they had attempted to march to the Indonesian parliament building.

In Australia the next day, thousands of people participated in actions in solidarity with the students struggling for democracy in Indonesia and independence for East Timor. The international day of action, organised by Resistance and Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET), demanded: End Australian military ties to the Habibie regime, Indonesian troops out of East Timor, Disarm the pro-integration terror gangs in East Timor, and Free the political prisoners in Indonesia


From Sydney, Bea Brear reports that 300 people participated in a vibrant march through the city streets. At Town Hall, Jenny Munro from the Metropolitan Lands Council launched the rally with greetings from the Aboriginal community.

Harold Moucho from Fretilin, Andrew Ferguson from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, Jon Land from ASIET, Andrew McNaughtan from the Australia East Timor Association and Maung Maung Than, general secretary of the All Burma Student Democratic Organisation, addressed the crowd at different stages of the march.

At the Australian defence department building the protesters showed their condemnation of the military ties between Australia and Indonesia by burning the ABRI flag. Outside the United Nations' office, speakers criticised the UN-backed plan for East Timor's August 8 vote on autonomy which makes ABRI responsible for security.

The march ended at the office of Garuda airlines where a hunger strike from Resistance spoke about the political prisoners in Indonesia. The 24-hour hunger strike organised by Resistance in the city and Sydney's west raised more than $1000 for the campaign to free the political prisoners.

Stuart Munckton reports from Adelaide that 60 people gathered outside foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer's electorate office for an angry protest addressed by activists from Resistance, ASIET, the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) and Campaign for an Independent East Timor. A solidarity message from Indonesia's People's Democratic Party was received with loud applause.

Despite intermittent rain, about 150 people expressed their solidarity with the East Timorese independence movement in Brisbane, says Andy Gianniotis. Each speaker symbolically "cut military ties" with the Indonesian regime before going on to the podium.

Speakers included Mike Byrne from ASIET, former Queensland maritime union organiser Bob Carnegie, Alfonso Corte-Real from the East Timorese community, Damien Legoullon from the Brisbane East Timor Action Coalition, and Ursula Oertel and Stella Riethmuller from Resistance. Carnegie told the protesters: "It's our duty as working-class people to do everything humanly possible to make East Timor a free and independent country."

The protesters marched from King George Square to the Garuda travel centre and the Defence Forces Recruiting Centre chanting "Stop the killing, stop the lies end all military ties".

Two hundred people joined a lively march in Melbourne from the Indonesian consulate to the Victoria military barracks. Speakers included Grahame McCulloch from the National Tertiary Education Industry Union (NTEU), Jo Williams from ASIET, Resistance member Sharon Simmons, Joaquim Santos from Fretilin and Sharan Burrows from the Australian Education Union.

In Lismore, Nick Fredman reports, members and supporters of Resistance, the DSP and Lismore Friends of East Timor held a speak-out at which many passers-by stopped to collect information and sign petitions and a giant postcard addressed to the Australian government.

Sean Martin-Iverson reports that more than 150 people gathered at the Perth Cultural Centre where speakers included Sandra Rodriguez from UDT, Francisco Soares from Fretilin, secretary of the WA Trades and Labor Council Tony Cooke, Sarah Stephen from ASIET and Jane Black from Resistance. The protestors marched to the offices of Garuda airlines chanting "Free East Timor Indonesia Out!". Once there, an Indonesian flag was burned.

In Hobart, says Viv Miley, around 75 people gathered on the Parliament House lawns for the rally addressed by Nikki Ulaslowski and Huw Lockwood from Resistance, Edwina Foster from ASIET, Jenny Herrera from the East Timor Committee, Lynne Fitzgerald from the Tasmanian Trades and Labor Council and Kamala Emmanuel from the DSP.

David Lam and Kylie Moon report that Resistance and other solidarity activists participated in a rally and march on the military barracks at Parramatta in Sydney's west. Crosses representing the atrocities of the Indonesian regime in East Timor, Indonesia, West Papua and Aceh were planted, and there was a symbolic burning of the Timor Gap Treaty.

Natalie Zirngast reports from Darwin that 130 people participated in the rally and march through the centre of the city led by East Timorese women drummers. The protest ended with an all-night candlelight vigil outside the Indonesian consulate.

In Newcastle, 25 people participated in a speak-out in the Hunter Street Mall. East Timorese activist John Dos Santos, Bob Burghat from Christians for Peace, an activist in the NTEU, Jane Beckmann from the DSP, Resistance's Graham Williams and Chris Latham from ASIET spoke. Ben McKinnon read a statement of solidarity from the Newcastle University Students Association to the students of Indonesia.

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