Jakarta (AFP)

The Indonesian government confirmed Thursday that it has blocked Internet access in its riotous province of Papua since the beginning of the week, fearing that the spread of racist content online will fuel the unrest.

Several cities have been witnessing demonstrations since the beginning of the week, which have degenerated in places into riots with burning official buildings and clashes with the police in this poor region located in the far east of the Indonesian archipelago.

The weekend arrest in Surabaya, on the island of Java, of 43 Papuan students and the racist insults they were subjected to caused anger in Papua.

Authorities began by asking mobile operators to slow down internet networks, citing the need to fight infox or provocative and racist comments against Papuans, from several Melanesian ethnic groups, before blocking mobile internet provision.

"This morning, internet access was completely blocked," Ferdinandus Setu, a spokesman for the Ministry of Telecommunications, told AFP.

"There was a huge amount of racist and provocative content online (...) that went viral," he said.

The three operators serving the region cooperated with the blocking of the mobile internet, although it was still possible to connect via wifi or other means.

Calm seemed to return Thursday in the province after the arrival of reinforcements of some 1,200 police and military. Forty-five protesters were arrested and Security Minister Wiranto arrived at the scene Wednesday night with the commanders-in-chief of police and army.

In the capital Jakarta, a demonstration for the independence of Papua has gathered more than a hundred protesters.

The region rich in natural resources, home to some 3 million people, is experiencing a sporadic separatist rebellion against the Indonesian government's control.

Papua declared itself independent in 1961, but Indonesia took control by force in 1963 and formally annexed it in 1969 after a controversial referendum on self-determination.

Many Papuans claim independence, like Papua New Guinea, another half of this big island that got it in 1975 after being an Australian colony.

© 2019 AFP