Police arrest eight after violent protests at Indonesia's new nickel hub

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Police in Indonesia’s North Maluku province have arrested 8 people linked to a workers’ demonstration that turned violent at a nickel project run by France’s Eramet and China’s Tsingshan Holding Group, a police spokesman said on Sunday.

A rally on May 1 demanding, among other things, a lockdown at the Indonesia Weda Bay Industrial Park (IWIP) during the coronavirus pandemic, turned violent with demonstrators destroying company property and looting food, North Maluku police spokesman Adib Rojikan said.

Eight people had been named suspects for their involvement in the violence and four others were being questioned, Rojikan said by telephone.

The demands by workers included rejecting lay-offs and getting a full salary during the proposed lockdown, as well as blocking parliamentary deliberation in Jakarta of a bill that calls for a steep cut in severance compensation, said Rojikan.

IWIP said in a statement that the two workers’ unions at the industrial park were not behind the rally and accused five unversity students of provoking some 800 workers to join the rally and conduct “anarchic action”.

Some of its offices, several vehicles and heavy machinery were damaged during the violence, IWIP said.

IWIP said police had pledged to provide security at the park for its operation, but did not specify whether the incident would disrupt production.

Early stage production only started at the Weda Bay Nickel Project last Thursday, with total annual capacity of 30,000 tonnes.

Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Ed Davies and Michael Perry