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Indonesian Student to Ignite Another Jasmine Revolution?

Could an Indonesian student ignite a second "Jasmine Revolution" after immolating himself in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta?
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 12/11/2011, 11:13 AM

An Indonesian student may have ignited a second "Jasmine Revolution" after setting himself on fire in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta.

Police said it was unclear what Sondang Hutagalung, a well-known rights advocate, was protesting when he torched himself on Wednesday. The 22-year-old law student died Saturday after being treated for burns over 98 percent of his body, Jakarta police spokesman Baharudin Djafar said.

An investigation has been launched into Hutagalung's protest, Djafar told the AFP news agency. "We still don't know what caused him to immolate himself," he said.

Witnesses were quoted by the Jakarta Globe who said the student had poured gasoline over himself and ignited the flames near the palace before running towards a billboard bearing a photo of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, shouting anti-government messages, a living, flaming torch.

Djafar denied the report, saying it was "not possible" that Hutagalung was protesting against the government. "He was the perpetrator as well as the victim," the police spokesman said. "Only he had the answer; we couldn't guess his motive. But we hope nobody will repeat such an act. If you're unhappy with anything, you may protest but please do so without hurting yourself and others."

A similar act by a desperate vendor protesting against the Tunisian government after his produce and pushcart were confiscated by authorities set off the "Jasmine Revolution" in Tunisia. That act of self-immolation ignited what eventually became the "Arab Spring" that swept through the entire Middle East. Four long-standing regimes were toppled in the uprisings that followed, with at least another one currently being threatened, and several of those whose governments were swept aside still not yet stabilized in the aftermath.

But Indonesia's president already appears to be managing a budding democracy, albeit in an Islamic environment. The first Indonesian president to win a democratic election after decades of dictatorship, Yudhoyono began his second five-year term in October 2009, but has had to struggle with sinking popularity polls amid problems with incompetence and corruption at other levels of government, despite the country's strong economy.

Yudhoyono expressed his "sympathy and concern" following the incident, in a statement released through his adviser, Daniel Sparingga.

Indonesia is home to the largest Muslim population in the world, numbering some 203 million people -- approximately 88 percent of the total population of the country as of the 2009 census. The majority adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam.