JAKARTA (Reuters) – Demonstrations on the outcome of presidential elections last month seized the heart of the Indonesian capital on Wednesday after Jakarta's governor had fought overnight a duel between police and demonstrators and killed six people.
The protests followed an announcement by the Electoral Commission on Tuesday before dawn, confirming that President Joko Widodo had defeated his challenger, former General Prabowo Subianto, in the April 17 election.
On Wednesday morning, crowds swelled in the center of Jakarta, and police said they expected more demonstrators to arrive before dark. Some of the arrivals were carrying wooden poles and some had toothpaste greased around their eyes, apparently to protect themselves from tear gas.
The majority of demonstrators seem to have come from outside Jakarta, and police have found money envelopes on some of the people they search, National Police spokesman Muhamad Iqbal told a news conference.
"This is not a spontaneous incident, but intentional. There are signs that the mobs are being paid and are out to cause chaos, "he said.
Hundreds of students also peacefully protested in the city of Medan in the north of the island of Sumatra, demanding an investigation into suspected electoral fraud, TVOne reported.
"WE KNOW WHO'S STANDING IT"
The Parliamentary Election Commission (KPU) confirmed unofficial figures from private opinion pollsters on Tuesday, which gave Widodo 55.5% of the vote compared to 44.5% Prabowo.
Widodo won more than 85 million votes from 1
Prabowo's legal director has announced that his campaign is planning to challenge the outcome before the Constitutional Court. Prabowo also launched a lawsuit after being defeated by Widodo in the 2014 election, which was rejected.
On Monday, an electoral supervisory authority rejected the allegation of systematic fraud, citing lack of evidence. Independent observers said the survey was free and fair.
Analysts said Widodo's double-digit profit margin meant that the opposition had no strong reason to claim that the election was rigged, but that Islamist supporters of Prabowo could cause significant disruption.
Islamist groups, many of whom support Prabowo, have mobilized hundreds of thousands of supporters in the past.
From the end of 2016, they organized a series of protests against the then governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who was the first ethnic-Chinese Christian to hold the post and was later imprisoned for insulting the Koran.
The president's chief of staff, Moeldoko, said he believes there is "a systematic effort by a certain group relying on the situation to cloud the situation," adding that the authorities seized two people's pistols who were involved in civil unrest. "We know who's behind it, it's a matter of time."
The protests, which began peacefully on Tuesday in the sprawling textile market district of Tanah Abang, became violent after dark, and the police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.
The Governor of Jakarta, Anies Baswedan, told TVOne that six people had died and 200 were wounded in the morning.
The news website Tirto reported that a man in Tanah Abang had died of gunshot wounds, and quoted a doctor in a hospital near the site.
SOCIAL MEDIA BLOCK
Fadli Zon, vice chairman of Gerindra, Prabowo's political party, accused the police of launching an attack on protesters and said he found 171 bullets on Wednesday morning, including firearms.
"The public has a right to demonstrate. They are people who are worried about fraud. They are not mobilized, paid or supported, "said Zon.
The spokesman for the Prabowo campaign, Dahnil Azar Simanjuntak, called for "all sides to hold back and commit no violence".
Police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said local security forces, including military personnel, were not armed with sharp bullets.
According to the Indonesian authorities, over 40,000 police and army personnel are deployed throughout Jakarta to ensure safety.
TV footage showed how smoke billowed up behind dozens of demonstrators in the streets of Tanah Abang on Wednesday, with some fireworks throwing open and tearing down public fences.
Many office buildings, shops and embassies in downtown Jakarta and train stations in the area have been closed.
Hundreds of policemen in combat gear blocked the normally busy Sarinah intersection to hold back a crowd that they said was likely to swell further in the afternoon.
Security chief Wiranto said the government would temporarily block certain social media features to prevent inflammatory hoaxes and news counterfeiting.
Australia, the United States, and Britain warned in travel warnings of heightened risk of violence across Indonesia and advised citizens to stay away from protests.
Additional coverage by Gayatri Suroyo, Ed Davies and; Fanny Potkin; Writing by John Chalmers; Edited by Nick Macfie