Thousands protested amid tight security across Indonesia’s vast Papua region on Monday to call for independence from Jakarta.

About 2,000 demonstrators marched through West Papua provincial capital Manokwari carrying banners calling for separation from Indonesia, an AFP correspondent said.

One man was arrested and struck repeatedly by police after apparently being caught carrying a banned ‘Morning Star’ independence flag.

Displaying the flag and other ‘separatist symbols’ is punishable by up to life in jail under Indonesian law.

Up to 10,000 people, many wearing traditional tribal clothing, gathered for a prayer meeting in Nabire town in neighbouring Papua province under the gaze of 500 police and soldiers, church worker Yones Douw told AFP by telephone.

‘There were no problems with the police and troops, even though they guarded the meeting closely,’ Mr Douw said.

Pro-independence Papuans celebrate Dec 1 as a national day commemorating former colonial power The Netherlands’ 1961 recognition of Papua’s right to self-rule.

Indonesia gained sovereignty over Papua in a 1969 UN-sponsored vote by a select group of tribal leaders widely denounced as a sham.

Prayer meetings of hundreds were also held in many towns across Papua, which makes up the western half of New Guinea island, and included a protest of around 700 people near the Papua provincial capital of Jayapura.

‘Papua is a land full of threats… we are poor and suffering on top of a land of wealth,’ Papua Presidium Council (PDP) Secretary General Taha Alhamid told the crowd.

‘We are going to keep holding on until Papua is free,’ he said in a field beside the grave of former PDP head Theys Eluay, strangled to death in 2001 by Indonesian special forces.

Activists and community leaders at the rally read out a declaration calling for independence from Indonesia and the closure of massive mining and oil and gas interests belonging to foreign firms BP and Freeport McMoRan.

Around 300 Papuans also rallied peacefully alongside a heavy police presence in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, news website Detikcom reported. — AFP