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Fires and fury in Indonesia

A fire rages in Riau province, Indonesia. Photo: Jefta Images/Barcroft Media via Getty

Slash-and-burn farming is to blame for many of the nearly 2,000 wildfires that have spread smoke over swathes of Indonesia and caused respiratory problems for at least 920,000 people, the New York Times reports.

Context: The government tends to ignore violations from palm oil and wood pulp producers who intentionally start the fires, but pressure is mounting on President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) to take action.

  • Jokowi was re-elected in April, but his popularity has been sliding since he approved a law to defang an anti-corruption commission.
  • Student protestors filled the streets of Jakarta this week, "blocking traffic, pulling down fencing and torching a police post," the Times reports. Police responded with tear gas.
  • The students are urging Jokowi to rescind the law and reject a proposed overhaul of the criminal code backed by arch-conservative Islamists.

The big picture: Jokowi's image as a modernizing reformer is now undergoing a reevaluation.