11/05/2016, 13.28
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For President Widodo, yesterday's demonstrations infiltrated by political agitators

by Mathias Hariyadi

An emergency security meeting is held at the presidential palace after crowd clashes with police. Ethnic Chinese start to express fears. The "blasphemy" case against Jakarta governor will be held in the coming weeks "in a transparent, speedy and clear manner." Deputy speaker Fahri Hamzah, who wants to force Widodo from office, was among the crowd of protesters.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Things are back to normal in Jakarta following yesterday’s demonstration, which included some clashes with police. Security forces remain on high alert to deal with possible protests in the coming days.

Yesterday before midnight, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo held a meeting with ministers and security officials along with military and intelligence chiefs urging everyone to remain vigilant.

Widodo’s first security meeting since taking office two years ago comes amid tensions that followed last night’s clashes in front of the presidential palace.

When police tried to disperse the protesters after 6 pm in accordance with Indonesian law, protesters reacted with violence by throwing stones at police and setting two police cars on fire to which police responded with tear gas.

Hours later, unrest broke out in Gedong Panjang district and Pakin Street, in the north of the capital, where protesters threw stones at shops and stole items on display. The area is 20 km from the presidential palace.

It is not yet clear whether the two groups of protesters were connected. What is clear is that the protesters in front of the Presidential Palace were a group of Muslims who want to see Jakarta Governor of Jakarta, “Ahok” Basuki Tjahaja Purnama removed from office because of charges of "blasphemy". They also want President Widodo "not to interfere" in the case, showing that Ahok is not untouchable.

The attacks in Pakin and Gedong Panjang alarmed residents in Pliut, a posh residential area two or three kilometres from Pakin and home to mostly to rich Indonesian Chinese.

Speaking to AsiaNews, an ethnic Chinese woman, who asked that her name be withheld, expressed great concern about the violent demonstrations. Yesterday’s events reminded her of the incidents of May 1998, when thousands of ethnic Chinese were attacked by criminal gangs who destroyed or burnt their homes and shops, as well as raped hundreds of women.

According to observers, demonstrators tried to reach Ahok’s house in Pliut, but were stopped by security forces, police and army.

Widodo’s reaction

A few minutes after the security meeting, the president held a press conference at the presidential palace. Instead of his usual smiling face and white shirt, Jokowi showed tension and gravity, wearing a military jacket.

With emotion, he thanked "Muslim leaders, Kiai, and guru who peacefully led their Islamic groups" in the rallies (in front of the presidential palace).

At the same time, he expressed regret that "after the evening prayer [when all protest should cease in accordance with the law], the peaceful situation turned violent and hostile. We are certain that this chaotic situation was infiltrated by some political actors" who manipulated the situation to the benefit of their own political group.

The president went on to say that he had instructed Vice-President Jusuf Kalla to meet the demonstrators to discuss the issues and listen to their demands. The two sides had agreed that "the Ahok case will be judged in two weeks time in a transparent, speedy and clear manner."

The president called on demonstrators to return home peacefully, and let the police do their job properly and fairly. The press conference lasted a few minutes, without any questions and answers.

Unanswered questions

One question remains, namely whom did the president mean when he spoke of political actors who had "infiltrated" the peaceful demonstration? He did not mention any name, nor indicate any group.

Yet, it is very interesting to note Fahri Hamzah, deputy speaker of parliament, was in the crowd of protesters. In a previous statement, he had said there were “two paths” to force Widodo out of office: through legal action (impeachment) or via violent "street parliament" of huge and menacing crowds.

This seems to back what some observers are saying, namely that the main target of yesterday’s events was not Ahok but Jokowi. For these radical groups, Ahok is just the first step towards toppling Widodo.

In Indonesia, after Suharto’s rule, the president is elected by the people. Impeachment is possible only if he seriously violates the constitution or the principles of Pancasila.

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