Thursday, December 08, 2011

Self-Immolation at Palace Could Stay a Mystery

Members of Campus Network outside the hospital. They say the victim set himself on fire over government policies. (Antara Photo/M. Agung Rajasa)


Hopes are dim for the still unidentified man who appears to have set himself on fire near the State Palace on Wednesday in a desperate act that has shocked the nation.

The man, believed to be about 40 years old, survived the incident, but on Thursday evening was in critical condition in the intensive care unit of Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital (RSCM) in Central Jakarta.

Speaking during a news conference at the state-run hospital on Thursday, Akmal Taher, the hospital director, said the man had burns to 97 percent of his body, making it unlikely he would survive.

“We are trying to save him but it will be difficult to do so,” he said, adding that the man was on a respirator to help him breathe.

Burns to the man’s face will hamper efforts to identify him, Akmal said.

So far, nobody has come forward to identify the man.

Outside the hospital, about a dozen people, who began gathering on Wednesday night, claimed the man had deliberately set himself on fire in protest.

The people, calling themselves Jaringan Kampus (Campus Network), were distributing an open letter expressing sympathy for the victim, whom they believed set himself on fire in anger at the central government.

They compared the incident to the self-immolation of Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, whose protest sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.

Jati, a member of the group, claimed that he had spoken to a witness who told him that the man, who approached the Presidential Palace from the National Monument (Monas), poured three bottles of gasoline over himself and screamed antigovernment messages before setting himself on fire.

Jati added that the witness told him that as the man burned, he continued to walk toward the palace before collapsing. If true, it would be the first protest of its kind in Indonesia.

But the Central Jakarta Police’s chief of operations, Sr. Comr. Abdul Karim, said that as far as the police knew, there were no witnesses who could confirm how or why the man set himself on fire.

“No one heard the man screaming. Witnesses only noticed him once he was on fire,” Abdul said.

Spokesman Daniel Sparingga said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was monitoring efforts to save the man’s life.

“We think that every living creature’s life is a blessing from God and that nobody should waste that blessing,” he said in a text message to the Jakarta Globe.

Daniel said that people were free to express their opinions, but they should do so in a civilized, religious and humane way.

He said that whatever the man’s motivation had been, “We feel sorry about the incident and we hope that it will be the last that we see in our lifetime.”

Anas Urbaningrum, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party, blamed the incident on economic factors, suggesting that poverty pushed people to desperation.

“The most important thing is for the government to work hard to improve the national economy and to distribute the benefits to the people,” he said.

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