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Unrest stirs Jakarta amid worry growth may be hit


THOUSANDS of protesters rallied for a third day across Indonesia against a number of controversial laws, amid concern that the violent public demonstrations risked damaging the growth and stability in South-east Asia's biggest economy.

They were protesting against sweeping legislation that would outlaw extramarital sex, infringe on gay rights and potentially derail efforts to attract more foreign investors. The protesters are also angry over a law passed last week that weakened the authority of the country's Corruption Eradication Commission.

Analysts say the proposed changes represent a winding back of democracy and put the investment climate at risk; Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said the unrest could threaten business sentiment.

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She had warned on Tuesday that positive sentiment and significant inflows to Indonesia from interest rate cuts as well as quantitative easing in Europe and the US could be at risk. "Hence, we might have to guard the current situation to bring back momentum and stability, so that we can focus more on the external risks."

Police used tear gas and water cannons to repel protesters near Jakarta's parliament building on Tuesday. The violent clashes left 265 students and 36 policemen injured, the police said Wednesday.

The US embassy in Jakarta on Wednesday warned of the possibility of more demonstrations in the coming days and advised its citizens to avoid areas affected by the protests.

President Joko Widodo last week moved to delay the changes to the criminal code, but they may still be reintroduced when the new parliament is sworn in next month.

The House had initially been expected to pass the criminal code changes, before the president moved to delay the proceedings. The wide-ranging legislation will also clamp down on abortions, dissent and freedom of speech.

The latest unrest comes as Jokowi, as the president is known, prepares to be sworn in for a second term next month. He has also faced anger over changes to an anti-corruption law that human rights groups said would deal a blow to efforts to tackle graft. BLOOMBERG