'Something to do with Palestine': Paid protesters rally against embassy move
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'Something to do with Palestine': Paid protesters rally against embassy move

Jakarta: Indonesian rent-a-crowd 'protesters' were paid less than $3.50 each to attend a rally opposing any move by the Australian government of its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

About 250 people attended the rally on Friday, the fourth rally in the last five days, outside Australia's sprawling embassy compound in Kuningan, south Jakarta and which was organised by the Indonesian Muslim League, a little-known group.

Protesters, some of whom were paid to attend, sit around bored at a rally outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta.

Protesters, some of whom were paid to attend, sit around bored at a rally outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta.Credit:James Massola

But while some attending the protest appeared to be genuinely fired-up by the prospect of Australia shifting its embassy to Jerusalem, perhaps half the crowd appeared largely disinterested and showed little enthusiasm for the speaker imploring them to agree to "occupy" the embassy.

Fairfax Media confirmed with three of the 'protesters' hanging around on the fringes of the rally that many had been paid to attend.

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Many members of the crowd looked bored, posed for selfies, played with their phones, hid in the shade away from the afternoon sun and appeared not be listening to the speakers at the rally.

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The 'protesters' said they and at least 35 of their friends had been paid to come to the rally on Friday and express their 'opinion' - a practice that is common in Indonesia.

One woman, who usually runs a food stall and who declined to give her name, confirmed she had been paid 35,000 rupiah (a little less than $3.50) to attend on Friday and at the protest held on Tuesday, too.

"The police asked if we were paid rupiah 100,000, I said no it's just rupiah 35,000. I haven't been paid yet. I was promised to be paid tonight. He [the organiser] will be come to my house and pay me," she said.

She did not know who the main speaker was, nor apparently what exactly she was there to "protest".

"Do you know what you're protesting about?" Fairfax Media asked.

"About moving the Australian embassy," the woman said.

"Which Australian embassy? This building?"

"I don't know. I think it's something to do with Palestine."

The food seller said she had come with 20 female friends to the protest.

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Another woman, a former tailor who declined to give her name, said she would also be paid 35,000 rupiah on Friday evening by one of the rally's organisers for attending. She had also been paid to attend the rally on Monday.

"Usually I will be paid in the evening, he'll [the organiser] come to my house and pay me," she said.

The man who would pay her, who she declined to name, was from her neighbourhood and knew people in the Indonesia Muslim League.

Asked why she had turned out on Friday, the woman - who usually stays at home and looks after her daughter's children - said: "I would better come here than doing nothing at home. Other women who are here today have the same reason, they have nothing to do at home".

"With my neighbours, there are around 15 people [that she knew at the protest]".

'It's a huge mistake'

About 50 police, including members of the para-military Brimob unit, watched on as a fire-and-brimstone speaker condemned the possible embassy move and directly addressed Australian ambassador Gary Quinlan.

"We ask Mr Gary as Australian ambassador don't go ahead with the plan to move the embassy to Jerusalem. It's a huge mistake," the speaker demanded.

While much of the focus of the rally was on the possible move of the Australian embassy, Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto was also in the cross hairs for his recent statement supporting Australia's sovereign right to decide where its Israeli embassy will be located - a decision that has drawn criticism from President Widodo's supporters.

Indonesia Muslim League secretary general Wasil said that he regretted Prabowo's statement.

"Prabowo thinks it's a matter of Australia's sovereignty. We're worried that maybe there is some kind of conspiracy with Australia that if Prabowo wins the election [next April], Indonesia's foreign policy on Palestine would be revised," he said.

"We also support the government's move to delay the signing of IA-CEPA [the free trade deal between Indonesia and Australia] if Australian continues to maintain its plan to move its embassy to Jerusalem."

The rally implored members of the so-called 212 movement - a large Islamist group who played a key role in the downfall of Christian former governor Ahok for allegedly insulting the Koran - to rally outside the embassy.

The 212 movement is due to hold a rally in the centre of Jakarta on Sunday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said a decision will be announced about the possible embassy move in the next month. Indonesian cabinet minister Luhut Pandjaitan told Fairfax Media on Friday that he believed the free trade deal will be signed by the end of the year.

James Massola is south-east Asia correspondent, based in Jakarta. He was previously chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in Canberra. He has been a Walkley and Quills finalist on three occasions.

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