11/19/2014, 00.00
INDONESIA
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As Ahok, a Christian and ethnic Chinese, becomes the first non-Muslim to lead Jakarta, Islamists rage

by Mathias Hariyadi
In a break with tradition, Tjahaja Basuki Purnama was sworn in today by President Jokowi, his predecessor as Jakarta governor, at the Presidential Palace, and not by the Home Affairs Ministry. Extremist groups call for the ouster of the new governor. Thousands of police have been deployed to enforce security.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Basuki Tjahaja 'Ahok' Purnama today became officially the new governor of Jakarta. This follows months of political deadlock and open hostility by extremist movements, led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), opposed to him because he is a Christian and an ethnic Chinese.

During the official ceremony, the new governor presented his letters of credentials and took the oath of office before the president, who is also the outgoing governor of the Indonesian capital, President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo.

The ceremony took place at the Presidential Palace, in central Jakarta, breaking with tradition whereby governors are sworn in by the Home Affairs minister.

Thousands of police and soldiers were out in the streets patrolling sensitive areas to prevent attacks or end isolated incidents of violence.

Popularly known as Ahok, Jakarta's new governor has his work cut out: first, because he is an ethnic Chinese and a Christian, and second, because he has shown strong character and integrity in the exercise of his functions, without a whiff of corruption or cronyism.

He has shown such firmness in recent weeks, when he served as interim governor following Jokowi's resignation. Like the new president, whose deputy he was when the former was himself the governor of Jakarta, Ahok employs a language and approach that is even more inflexible and uncompromising than his predecessor.

Many of his public statements have been met with dissatisfaction and anger, especially from extremist Islamic fundamentalist movements.

The latter include the Islamic Defence Front, which the new governor would like to ban for causing violent incidents and for its extremist views on minority rights and religious freedom.

In the last few hours, hundreds of extremists have been demonstrating, calling for Ahok's ouster. 

The rise of the new governor is a milestone in the history of modern Indonesia, because for the first time a non-Muslim and an ethnic Chinese will occupy the capital's highest office. Many citizens and civil society groups expect important and quick changes.

However, the domestic opposition does not appear willing to give up. In fact, until a few hours before the swearing in ceremony, attempts were underway behind the scene to prevent the inauguration of the new administration.

The protection of minorities and religious freedom are among the priorities of President Jokowi's new administration, a priority to pursue by all legal means.

However, this is not going to be an easy goal in the world's most populous Muslim country, where a large segment of society - and political class - adheres to an extremist view of Islam and shows hostility towards ethnic and religious minorities.

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