04/12/2011, 00.00
INDONESIA

Kuansing, vote sparks violence: church burned, damage to Electoral Commission headquarters

Mathias Hariyadi
The ballot for the office of mayor sparks a street revolt. Thousands of people attack a Christian place of worship. Today, thousands of police in riot gear restore calm, but tension remains. Catholic priest says attacks caused by elections, not sectarian.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - A Christian church set on fire and an office of the Electoral Commission seriously damaged. This is the outcome of a revolt that took place yesterday in the district of Kuantan Singing - alias Kuansing – on the island of Sumatra, that broke out following the results of local elections. The political struggle between the main warring parties over the ballot, turned into an open clash after the announcement of the winner for the office of mayor. Even today, the tension remains high, the authorities have deployed a large group of police to prevent further violence.

Yesterday afternoon an angry mob, made up of thousands of people stormed and set fire to a Christian church - it is not known whether Catholic or Protestant - and the headquarters of the Electoral Commission of Kuansing district, Riau province, Sumatra island, west of the Indonesian archipelago. The street clashes, the news that the favourite to take over running the city had been defeated on the ballot.

The tension in the area remains high and only the deployment today of thousands of police in riot gear is preventing new clashes. Hundreds of people are afraid and do not intend to return to their homes. Restiawan, police chief Kuansing, excludes the possibility that the burning of the church is due to sectarian issues. "The defeat of their leader - says the official - has created discontent among the groups of supporters."

The ballot for the mayor’s office only had two pairs of candidates: the first formed by the head of the Kuansing district Sukarmis, and his deputy Zulkifli. Their challengers are Sukarmis’ current deputy, Mursini, and an local parliamentary named Gumpita.

Fr. Leo Mali, head of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Archdiocese of Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara province, strongly condemned "the anarchy that caused the destruction of the church in Kuansing" and accuses the state of not knowing how to apply the law to punish those guilty. A resident of the area affected by the violence, on condition of anonymity, added that "80 families living near the burned church do not have the courage to return to their homes."

Speaking to AsiaNews Fr Anton Konseng Pr explains that it is still unknown whether the church belongs to a Catholic or Protestant community, because "the place is in a remote location, hours of travel are needed to reach it." He adds that the violence "has nothing to do with inter-religious harmony in the regency, but was triggered by dissatisfaction with the election results."
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