Thousands of Indonesian students and workers held protests across the country on Thursday, demanding President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono drop a plan to raise fuel prices sharply.
Tens of thousands of Indonesians also queued at petrol stations in numerous cities to fill their tanks and plastic jerry cans before the sensitive hikes take effect on Saturday.
The rupiah currency dropped to a four-week low as investors feared the protests could snowball into wider political unrest, though the stock market was in positive territory, with Jakarta's broad index up about half a percent at midday.
Up to 2,000 chanting protesters marched in Jakarta toward the presidential palace under the watchful eye of hundreds of police, witnesses said. Protest organizers have said rallies would swell during the day, especially in the capital.
"Fight it now! Fight the hikes!", "People have been fooled by SBY for too long!", students chanted as they marched, referring to the president by his initials.
Protests hit at least nine cities besides Jakarta, witnesses and local media said, although numbers were not large by the standards of Indonesia's recent volatile past, reports Reuters.
According to Bloomberg, Indonesia's administration deployed 5,500 policemen to guard shopping malls, gas stations and government buildings in Jakarta in anticipation of a protest. Another 13,000 were placed on standby across the capital to tackle any acts of violence, Jakarta police spokesman I Ketut Yoga Ana said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
The organizers had claimed the rally would draw as many as 15,000 people, Koran Tempo newspaper reported yesterday, citing Jumhur Hidayat, the coordinator for the planned protest.
“The concern is that the protest will lead to violence, which will hinder the government's efforts to cut subsidies and the budget gap,” said Osamu Takashima, chief analyst of the foreign exchange and treasury division in Tokyo at Bank of Tokyo- Mitsubishi Ltd., a unit of Japan's second-biggest lender. "That is weighing on the currency."
Today's rally, where protesters were shouting "Say no to fuel price increases," was supported by Soekarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, which voted against the plan to raise fuel prices.
"We are here to say no to fuel price increase," M. Khoirul Muttaquin, chairman of the Muhammadiyiah Students Association, said in a statement. "The government is weak. It is incapable of tackling problems in the economy, mining and energy sectors. Not all are the state finances getting worse, the economy of the people is deteriorating."