Scapegoats targeted by the mob live in fear

First, the angry mobs outside her shop-house chanted: "Destroy the Chinese."

Next, Ms Afung Hong watched helplessly, cowering inside her hardware store as rioters flipped her car and set it on fire. Then they bashed through her padlocked door with a wooden beam. She and her three children fled out the back in fright.

Four days of violent riots in Medan last week killed two people and raised the deep prejudice many Indonesians feel for the Chinese minority, who dominate commerce and are often a scapegoat during hard times.

Army reinforcements rushed to Medan and quelled the rioting, triggered by skyrocketing fuel prices, but heavy tension remains. Hundreds of businesses are shut, their owners too afraid to step outside.

"You can't run a business without security. I've been robbed of both," said Ms Afung, in hiding at her eldest son's house. She received a visitor cautiously, clutching an iron rod.

Shattered second-storey windows and charred shopfronts line the usually bustling business district of Medan, painting a vivid picture of the effects of Asia's financial crisis.

The rioters hurled stones, looted stores and vented frustration at the Government-ordered price increases.

Hundreds of Chinese fled Medan to Jakarta and Singapore for safety. Airlines reported all seats for the past few days were consistently booked.

Despite the extra security provided by troops, Chinese who stayed behind armed themselves with clubs and wore motorcycle helmets to patrol the streets at night, guarding their property.

A physician who gave his name as "Dr John" said he planned to resume office hours as soon as possible, but was doubtful about police promises that things were returning to normal.

"Once I can sleep at night, then I can work during the day," he said, one of dozens of men patrolling central Medan at night, gripping an iron stave for protection. "We need to protect ourselves. This is what it's come to."

The nearby port of Belawan, one of the country's most important, has reported no activity for days as trucking agents are afraid to risk the roads and be set upon by looters.

A woman said rioters crashed a truck through the window of her motorcycle showroom. Then, as hundreds of onlookers cheered, they hurled five new Honda scooters into a bonfire.

"I have nothing now," said the woman, who hasn't yet returned home but was told by neighbours what to expect. "Not even a single spoon is left. All I have now is debt."

Ms Afung, 42, doesn't blame the rioters who looted her shop and stole the family savings she had just withdrawn from a bank, fearing it might collapse.

"The cause was simple - the poor people got together to say: "We can't take it anymore,'" she said. "I blame the Government for raising fuel prices."

Ms Afung said she was too afraid to go home.

"It's better here," she said, locked inside her son's home for the fifth day. She wore the same cotton house dress she put on earlier before she ran for her life.

- Associated Press
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