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Papua protests: At least 16 people dead in burned buildings

People react as a building burns after fresh protests broke out in Wamena on September 23, 2019

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People were trapped in burning buildings in Wamena

At least 20 people are dead and 65 injured in Indonesia’s eastern region of Papua, following fresh violence.

On Monday, hundreds of protesters -mainly high school students- set fire to a government office and other buildings in Wamena city. At least 16 of the dead were those trapped inside.

The protests were reportedly triggered by racist comments made by a teacher.

In August Papua was hit by weeks of unrest, with police using tear gas to disperse crowds.

Papua military spokesman Eko Daryanto told news agency AFP the death toll from Monday’s violence could rise, saying many civilians had been “trapped in burning kiosks”.

In a separate incident in the provincial capital of Jayapura, a mob of students reportedly attacked a soldier and police officers with machetes and rocks. Four people died in that incident.

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A burning building in Wamena

The protests come after a period of relative calm in the region, which had last month been rocked by violent demonstrations in response to claims of racism.

The previous protests stemmed from an incident where nationalist groups accused Papuan university students in Surabaya of damaging an Indonesian flag during Independence Day celebrations.

The groups had goaded the students, calling them “monkeys”, “pigs” and “dogs”.

Machetes and rocks

A spokesman for a West Papua separatist group said the violence in Wamena was triggered by racist slurs directed at students by a teacher.

However, Papua police denied this, calling it a “hoax”. They said clashes had broken out after a fight between students from different schools.

Meanwhile in Jayapura, clashes took place between security forces and protesters, with pictures showing scores of police gathered outside a university.

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Indonesian riot police were seen outside a university in Jayapura

Mr Daryanto told news agency the Associated Press that a mob of students had attacked a soldier and police officers in Jayapura with machetes and rocks.

Security forces responded with gunfire, killing three civilians, he told AP. The soldier later died.

Papua, a former Dutch colony, initially declared independence in 1961 but was controversially annexed by Indonesia in 1969.

Media captionPapuans hold protest in Indonesian capital

A referendum on its independence was held in 1969 but only about 1,000 people were allowed to vote.

As a result, a low-level separatist movement, fighting for independence, continues to this day.

The Indonesian military, meanwhile, is accused of gross human rights abuses in their attempt to suppress any form of dissent in the province.

Papua protests: At least 16 people dead in burned buildings}

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