Subject: Southeast Asian protesters lured by money, drugs and alcohol

Southeast Asian protesters lured by money, drugs and alcohol

HONG KONG, May 8 (AFP) - Money, alcohol and drugs are proving to be effective tools for politicians and backroom power wielders aiming to mobilize mass protests and incite violence in Southeast Asia, analysts say.

Following riots in the Philippine capital on May 1 against the arrest of deposed leader Joseph Estrada, President Gloria Arroyo claimed the "drug-crazed" protesters were paid and "programmed to hate, to maim and even to kill by the power-grabbers."

Similar reports surfaced from the orgy of looting, destruction and killing by pro-Indonesian militia in East Timor before and after the independence vote in August 1999.

Witnesses and human rights observers there said some militiamen, who reduced much of the half-island to ashes, were high on alcohol and drugs allegedly provided by elements within the Indonesian army seeking to whip them into a frenzy of violence.

Non-governmental organizations, such as the East Timor Action Network and Amnesty International, have also widely documented reports that the militia were trained and paid by the military.

In Indonesia, the rent-a-mob phenomenon has become an integral part of the political scene, according to Mochtar Buchori, a Jakarta-based political commentator.

"It is very common in Indonesia to use money to lure protesters. It is primarily done by people with big war chests who want to take advantage of the tension and chaos in the country to influence public opinion," he said.

Robert Broadfoot of the Political and Economic and Risk Consultancy in Hong Kong agreed members of the elite seeking to present their own personal agenda as grassroots "people's power" movements were the real force behind many politically-related demonstrations in the region.

"What we saw in East Timor and the Philippines was not 'people's power.' It happens all over the world.

"It is very rare when you have leaders who have disagreements that they start slugging it out on the street themselves -- they get their supporters to do it."

Unlike the mainly middle-class protesters who swamped Manila's streets in January to oust the disgraced Estrada, the majority of the 8,000 rioters who tried to storm the presidential palace earlier this month were from impoverished backgrounds, said Broadfoot.

"Who pays their bus fare? Certainly people are getting money. If they are poor people they are not going to pay for themselves to travel.

"They were mobilised in the Philippines. The Philippines is a country where personalities rather than issues dominate and so it is not too difficult for a member of the elite or a leader to mobilize his people," he said.

"In Thailand in the 1970s the opposition would call in people from the countryside to pretend they were students from technical colleges. Rent-a-crowd techniques have been used many times before."

However, Professor Chang Chak-yan, director of research on ethnicity and overseas Chinese economics at Ling Nan University in Hong Kong, while agreeing it was a common phenomenon, cautioned against concluding that most demonstrators from society's underbelly in Southeast Asia were phoney.

He pointed to the opposition Keadilan party protests in Malaysia as an example of people motivated by cause rather than incentives.

Nevertheless, he said unemployment mixed with poverty were the key ingredients to the rent-a-mob phenomenon, particularly in Indonesia.

"There are so many people idle in Jakarta's slum areas without regular employment that any time the political situation is unsettled they join demonstrations because they are paid money.

"They do not have a political agenda. Their purpose is different. Their aim is to attack people, loot shops and cause problems," Chang said.

His comments echoed Mochtar's assertion that "if you are hungry and promised 50,000 rupiah (six US dollars) you will do anything. You don't feel any individual guilt because you are all together. It is collective guilt."

Drugs and alcohol in particular were very effective in stirring up violent rampages, analysts said.

Arroyo said after last week's riots that of more than 100 people arrested, a third had tested positive for drugs.

And journalists, human rights workers and international observers in East Timor in 1999 reported many crazed-looking militia.

Three months before the UN-organised poll, East Timor's Nobel Peace Prize winning Bishop Carlos Belo said he had heard many descriptions of "people with their eyes all red" who are "not conscious about what they are doing."

And Australian investigative reporter Jill Jolliffe told AFP that survivors of the September 8, 1999 massacre in Maliana police station, in which about 70 people were killed, had told her their attackers appeared to be in a drug-induced frenzy.

Other observers reported widespread consumption by the militia of kratindaeng, an energy drink which, when mixed with alcohol, has an intoxicating effect.

Chang also highlighted the attacks in Indonesia against ethnic Chinese shortly before former president Suharto's fall in May 1998.

"Many Chinese spoke of their attackers appearing to be on drugs in what they say was an anti-Chinese campaign organized by shadow leaders," he said.

The problem has also been observed further afield. In the troubled Pacific islands of Fiji, people are accustomed to being given kava, an alcoholic drink, if they turn up at demonstrations, while in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands the mind-bending beetle nut is often used as bait.

"One thing is for sure, if you are a normal person you are not going to beat or rape another person. But if you are high on alcohol or drugs you are able to do anything. That is why all these people were given drugs," Mochtar said.

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