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Protests erupt in West Papua over alleged police brutality, racism

By Darryl Coote
Protests erupt in West Papua over alleged police brutality, racism
 A local parliament building burns during a protest in Manokwari, West Papua, Indonesia, on Monday as protesters riot against the detention of Papuan students in Surabaya for allegedly damaging a national flag pole outside of a dormitory. Photo by EPA-EFE

Aug. 19 (UPI) -- Protests that erupted in the Indonesian province of West Papua over the weekend turned violent Monday when demonstrators set fire to a parliament building and local stores in anger against alleged harassment and police brutality committed against ethnic Papuan students.

Protesters blocked streets and set fire to tires, trees, a local parliament building and stores in Manokwari, the capital of West Papua, Al Jazeera reported.

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"We are not white and red, we are the Morning Star," protesters shouted in denunciation of Indonesia and in support of the Morning Star, a flag that represents Papuan self-rule.

The number of injured or dead had yet to be reported.

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The rioting broke out in response to military and police authorities storming a university dormitory in the city of Surabaya to arrest 43 West Papuan students in connection to the desecration of the nation's flag, which was discovered in a gutter near the building.

News of the flag being disrespected spread over social media, attracting crowds of people to the dormitory Friday and Saturday who allegedly hurled racial slurs and threats at the minority students.

East Java police Spokesman Frans Barung told Australis's ABC that forces stormed the building for the student's protection as the crowds were on the precipice of attacking.

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"[We] entered due to the [students'] provocative actions on allegedly committing slander on the national flag ... The police acted as a stabilator," he said.

The students were released without charge some nine hours later.

Indonesian Human rights lawyer Veronica Koman told the Guardian that the police's response was "totally disproportionate."

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"Fully armed police shot teargas into the dorm, charged into it, forced the students to squat and waddle along the ground then arrested them," she said, adding "the students were not even told why they were arrested. That violates the criminal procedural law."

Though there is a separatist movement in Papua that has laid dormant for decades, Papua Gov. Lukas Ensemble said Monday's protest was the product of Papuans' anger at "the extremely racist words by East Java people, the police and military," according to ABC citing Indonesian broadcaster TVone.

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