Widodo skips Australia trip as unrest simmers at home

PHOTO: Reuters

JAKARTA - Indonesia's President Joko Widodo postponed a visit to Australia on Saturday after a mass protest in Jakarta that briefly turned violent as Muslim extremists pressed for the resignation of the capital's governor, a Christian they say insulted the Quran.

Widodo has faced criticism for failing to rein in hardline groups that had promised for weeks to bring tens of thousands onto the streets of the capital, and during Friday's protest his office said he was inspecting a rail project at the airport.

At a news conference after midnight on Friday, he blamed"political actors" for fanning popular anger over city Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is standing for re-election in February, competing with two Muslims for the job.

Tens of thousands of Muslim hardliners in protest march against Jakarta governor for alleged blasphemy

  • Ahok - the first Christian to go­­vern Jakarta in more than 50 years
  • - will defend allegations that he insulted the Quran and fight calls for his imprisonment under Indo­nesia's tough blasphemy laws.
  • Ahok, known for his outspoken style, outraged Muslims when he controversially quoted a passage from the Islamic holy text while campaigning in elections for the Jakarta governorship.
  • The Jakarta police are set to deploy more than 2,000 personnel to secure the first hearing in the trial of non-active Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama over blasphemy allegations at the North Jakarta District Court
  • Thousands of Muslims worshipers have been gathering at the National Monument (Monas) square in Central Jakarta since Friday morning to join a mass prayer aimed at intensifying pressure on the police to detain Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama in a blasphemy case.
  • Indonesian police offered prayers for peace and called for unity ahead of a massive protest by Muslim hardliners against Jakarta's governor that authorities fear could turn violent.
  • Although the event, initiated by the National Movement to Safeguard the Indonesian Ulema Council’s Fatwa (GNPF-MUI), is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m., some participants said they had arrived as early as 5.30 a.m.
  • Most of them were wearing white.
  • he arriving worshipers first did the wudhu cleansing ritual with water provided at the location, before sitting down on their prayer mats, facing a large stage where the sermon will be given.
  • Hundreds of police personnel, wearing white Muslim caps, are on standby at the event.
  • This event is a follow-up to a large-scale anti-Ahok rally on Nov. 4, when protesters, mostly from Muslim groups, swarmed Jakarta streets to demand Ahok's prosecution.
  • a Christian and the first ethnic Chinese in the job, over claims that he insulted the Quran.
  • As many as 200,000 demonstrators are expected to gather at Monas during the gathering, which has been authorized to run until 1 p.m.
  • Indonesian police quelled a mass protest by tens of thousands of hardline Muslims , firing tear gas and water cannon into crowds
  • Last month, the National Police named Ahok, a Christian of Chinese descent, a suspect of blasphemy over comments on a Quranic verse the governor had made during a visit to Thousand Islands regency in late September.
  • At one stage during the march, the crowd chanted, "Arrest Ahok now... Kill Ahok now," reported The Straits Times.
  • Police formed human barricades outside key buildings such as ministries, the National Monument and the presidential palace. Armoured vehicles were also on guard to prepare for any violence.
  • A police spokesman said one person died and 12 were hurt.
  • Police said the number of demonstrators in central Jakarta swelled to about 150,000 in the hours after Friday prayers as they congregated around the palace of President Joko Widodo.
  • The crowd grew restive - some threw rocks at the police, two vehicles were torched and a fire broke out near the city's National Monument.
  • Many protesters were clad in robes and Muslim caps as they called for the resignation of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahja Purnama.
  • Tens of thousands of Muslim hardliners march to the presidential palace to protest against Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama for alleged blasphemy.
  • Many of the demonstrators, led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), had performed their Friday (Nov 4) prayers at the Istiqlal mosque, as well as on the streets and pavements outside.
  • Droves of protesters, including women in headscarves, arrived in buses, motorcycles and even on foot from as far as Bali and Kalimantan, choking major roads in the capital city.
  • Men in white Islamic robes chanted "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greater) as they walked towards the mosque, carrying Indonesian flags and waving posters with the words "Arrest or Expel Ahok", referring to the Jakarta governor.
  • Indonesian muslim students carry a mock coffin that reads: "Arrest Ahok".
  • Footage from local TV stations showed demonstrators standing on trucks and shouting through loudspeakers, calling for a peaceful rally.
  • Organisers said 200,000 people, including many from outside Jakarta, will participate in the rally. They will march to the state palace to press for the authorities to charge Mr Basuki, better known as Ahok, for allegedly insulting Islam.
  • Despite the major rally, the governor who is seeking re-election, remains unfazed, saying he will continue to campaign on Friday.
  • Truckloads of soldiers and police took the streets of Jakarta, securing shopping malls and business areas,
  • as residents in the Indonesian capital braced for a large-scale protest planned by hardline Muslim groups.
  • Thousands of protesters, led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), are expected to demand the resignation of the Jakarta governor,
  • Some Muslim groups have accused Purnama of blasphemy after he said his opponents had deceived voters by attacking him using a verse from the Quran.
  • The mood is tense in Jakarta, a sprawling city of around 10 million, with companies asking employees to work from home,
  • access to the main business district restricted and several foreign embassies urging their citizens to stay safe.

The governorship of the capital is a powerful position and one held by Widodo before he became president two years ago.

Widodo had planned to use the Nov.6-8 visit to Australia to cement improving ties, with a focus on economic and maritime co-operation and efforts to counter Islamist militancy. "Looking at the latest situation and condition in Indonesia that require the presence of the president, President Joko Widodo decided to postpone his scheduled state visit to Australia," a statement from his office said.

The protest against Purnama, the first ethnic Chinese to hold the position, was largely peaceful but in the evening the crowd grew restive and police restrained them with tear gas and water cannon fire.

One person died and more than 100 were injured in the violence, many of them police officers, three vehicles were torched and 18 were damaged, national police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar told a news conference on Saturday.

Clashes broke out in a north Jakarta area where there are large communities of non-Muslims and about 15 people were arrested there for looting a minimart, Amar said.

Some Chinese-owned shops and restaurants remained shuttered in the northern district, while security officers were still guarding a temple and a school, according to a resident.

WIDODO BLAMES 'POLITICAL ACTORS'

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, but most people follow a moderate form of Islam and protests on such a large scale are rare.

Ethnic Chinese make up just over 1 per cent of Indonesia's 250 million people, and they typically do not enter politics.

Indonesian Chinese have faced persecution and violence in the past, especially during the political and social turmoil that gripped Jakarta when former strongman Suharto was toppled in the late 1990s.

About a dozen Muslim groups have accused Purnama of insulting Islam after he jokingly said his opponents had used a verse from the Quran to deceive voters. The verse implies that Muslims should not choose non-Muslims as leaders.

Chanting "God is greatest", many in Friday's protest waved placards calling for Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, to be jailed for blasphemy. A white banner hung at an overpass was painted with red letters that read "Hang Ahok here".

Police are investigating the case against Purnama, who has apologised for his remarks, insisting he was not criticising the Koranic verse but those who used it to attack him.

Purnama is seen as a no-nonsense reformer with little patience for the corruption widely blamed for the chaos and dilapidated infrastructure of an overcrowded city of 10 million.

He remains popular despite efforts by Muslim groups to vilify him and is seen as the frontrunner in the election, though many voters are angry with him for evicting thousands from slums to modernise Jakarta.

Widodo, a Muslim, has vowed not to interfere in any legal proceedings against Purnama, according to media reports. But he said at his news conference that any legal process involving Purnama would be executed "swiftly, firmly and transparently".

He criticised politicians - whom he didn't name - for inciting die-hard protesters after most had already gone home. " ... we deplore the incident after the Isha prayers, when should have already disbanded but became violent. And, we see this was steered by political actors who were exploiting the situation," he said.

Purnama made no comment on Saturday but his office said the city governor would not be cowed by the protests against him. "There's no need to be afraid or to hide," spokesman Ruhut Sitompul said.

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