130 looters die in fire during Indonesian riot
May 25, 1997
Web posted at: 11:57 a.m. EDT (1557 GMT)
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BANJARMASIN, Indonesia (CNN) -- The bodies of 130 people have
been pulled from the ruins of a fashionable mall set ablaze
during a pre-election riot on the island of Borneo, and
officials said they expected to find more when the search
Officials said the bodies were those of looters trapped in
the building during a final spasm of wild rioting Friday in
Banjarmasin's commercial district as fierce politicking
degenerated into looting and random violence.
More than 100 people were injured and nearly 200 people were
arrested, most of them for looting, officials said.
At least four others died in rioting elsewhere in the city.
Officials also said that seven churches, eight shopping
centers, 130 houses, 21 cars, 60 motorcycles, four government
buildings and three hotels were damaged or destroyed in the
violence that culminated with the fire at the four-story
Mitra Plaza mall.
Officials said some of the dead were still clutching stolen
merchandise, and the charred body of one man wore three pairs
"Some were clutching stolen things like watches, belts and
bags," said a witness.
'Violence was extraordinary'
"The violence was extraordinary," said a priest whose church
Witnesses said the violence began Friday morning, the last
day of campaigning before the May 29 elections, when
supporters for the ruling Golkar party paraded through the
city attacking people who refused to show the two-fingered,
V-for-Victory party sign.
Those who gave the one-fingered sign of the Muslim-oriented
United Development Party (PPP) were special targets. But
after Islamic prayers that afternoon, thousands of people
poured out of the town's mosques and battled with those
heading to a Golkar rally.
The Golkar provincial headquarters was set afire along with a
Protestant church, which in turn ignited a crowded
neighborhood of wooden houses.
When police failed to step in, the violence escalated to
full-scale looting and burning. A mall under the four-star
Hotel Kalimantan was set afire, and at the height of the
rioting the mob broke into the Mitra Plaza, which had been
closed as a precaution.
Most residents stayed inside
When hundreds of police and troops finally surrounded the
building, witnesses said, many looters stayed inside rather
than risk arrest. They were trapped there and perished in a
fire that began on the ground floor after a bank was
ransacked and burned.
"All of them were criminals," a rescue official said. "They
were taking advantage of the riots. There were no employees
Police said most of the 181 people arrested were looters.
Banjarmasin, a riverside city of 400,000 known as the Venice
of Indonesia for its river canals and floating markets, is
about 560 miles (900 km) northeast of Jakarta.
Most residents stayed inside on Friday night, as did
ambulance drivers and firemen who refused to brave the
anarchic conditions in the streets. Even the police and
locally based troops waited until reinforcements could be
flown in from other provinces and the main island of Java, a
90-minute flight away.
Curfew imposed as troops patrol streets
The situation Sunday was calm as more than 1,000 troops and
police patrolled the streets amid speculation of possible
retaliation by anti-government protesters. A nighttime curfew
has been imposed.
Hundreds of homes were destroyed or damaged in the rioting,
and some still smoldered 48 hours after the rioting had
Reuters contributed to this report.
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