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    Apr 17, 2015

    Indonesia bans beer sales in small shops


    INDONESIA yesterday banned small retailers from selling beer, despite an outcry from the booze industry and in tourism hot spots over the Muslim-majority country's latest offensive against drinking.

    The ban restricts the sale of beer and pre-mixed drinks - such as spirits with soft drinks - to large supermarkets only, outlawing sales in the country's 16,000 minimarts and 55,000 other small shops. Hotels, restaurants and bars are unaffected.

    There had been particular anxiety over how the ban might affect tourism on the Hindu-majority resort island of Bali.

    However, Trade Minister Rachmat Gobel - who was shouted at during an ill-tempered meeting with community leaders in Bali last weekend - has pledged to ease the restrictions on the island to ensure street vendors can still sell beer at the beach.

    But others have not been so lucky.

    Convenience stores in Jakarta began pulling booze from their shelves weeks ago in anticipation, replacing chilled beers and bourbon and cokes with signs apologising to customers for the inconvenience.

    Very few small retailers can stock unmixed spirits and wine, meaning the regulation has been viewed as an attempt to completely ban alcohol sales at such outlets.

    German traveller Daniel Kowalski told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that he tried to buy a beer from a convenience store in Jakarta's backpacker strip, only to learn it no longer stocked alcohol.

    "I think tourists will not appreciate it. Everybody likes to have a beer," he said. "Some people may actually say, 'Well I can't have a beer, I'd rather go to Thailand.' "

    The national ban is the latest sign that conservative forces in the country of 250 million people are pushing back against growing alcohol consumption, and comes on the same week that Islamic parties in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation proposed a total ban on drinking.

    The Trade Ministry has justified the ban on sales at small retailers on health and moral grounds, as concerns grow over underage drinking being fuelled by wide alcohol availability in local neighbourhoods.

    Lawmaker Fahira Idris, founder of the National Anti-Alcohol Movement and a leading proponent of the measure, likened alcohol to a "machine killing our youth".

    "Our volunteers often see minors buying alcohol with ease in minimarkets," she told AFP.

    But major brewers have voiced their unhappiness.

    Multinational giant Diageo, which distributes well-known brands such as Guinness in Indonesia, called the ban "regrettable". A spokesman for Heineken, a popular brand in Indonesia, said the ban would hurt at the local level.

    And health advocates warn that it could drive more drinkers to black-market spirits, high-potency concoctions sold illegally on the street that kill an untold number of drinkers every year.