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Indonesian president bans buffaloes at protests

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[February 04, 2010]  JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) -- Enraged by protesters likening him to a "big and stupid" water buffalo, Indonesia's president has ordered the beasts and other animals banned at street rallies, a decision some Indonesians said shows their leader can't handle criticism.

The ban, issued Wednesday by Jakarta police, follows a demonstration last week in which protesters -- who accused President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of failing to fight rampant corruption -- tried to parade a water buffalo with Yudhoyono's name spray-painted on it through the city's main traffic circle. The ban applies to all animals at rallies.

Police removed the buffalo from the rally, one of a slew of protests held across the nation to mark the first 100 days of the president's second term.

Yudhoyono was not exactly thrilled with the comparison to a beast of burden that is a symbol of peasant rice farmers in Indonesia.

"They said that I am like a buffalo -- big and stupid and slow in moving," he told reporters Tuesday in the West Java town of Cipanas. "That statement is not ethical or moral, and to use a buffalo can violate other regulations, like traffic laws."

Yudhoyono has been the longest-ruling democratic leader since the end of Indonesia's dictatorship in 1998.

Desmond Mahesa, a lawmaker from the opposition party Gerindra, called the buffalo ban an overreaction and said it shows the president is a weak leader.

"I think he is not a dictator, as long demonstrations are allowed in this country -- but he too often complains about people's protests and critics against his administration," Mahesa said.

Political analyst Hilmar Farid of the National University of Singapore said he doubts Yudhoyono's new restriction will have lasting implications for Indonesia's democracy.

"He also said that he would never allow people to burn effigies or pictures of him, but people still do it," Farid said.

Police argue there's a practical reason for the banning of the buffalo -- safety.

"There is no guarantee that protesters can keep the water buffalo from being provoked and threatening people's lives if it is angered," Jakarta police spokesman Col. Boy Rafli Amar said.

[Associated Press; By KRISTEN GELINEAU]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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