11/04/2016, 18.14
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President Widodo snubs protest against Jakarta’s Christian governor

by Mathias Hariyadi

The president did not meet with Muslim leaders calling for the arrest of Ahok accused of "blasphemy”. Despite early fears, the event was held in a peaceful manner with a few clashes. There are religious and political factors behind the protest.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesian President Joko Widodo has refused to meet with the leaders of the protest currently underway in Jakarta against the city’s governor of the city.

Despite an “invitation” from the radical Muslim movements who organised the march, the president chose to go to Tangerang (Banten province) to see the progress of the new airport under construction.

From the early hours of this morning, thousands of Muslims marched in the streets of Jakarta demanding the arrest of Jakarta’s governor, Tjahaja Basuki Purnama also known as Ahok, whom they accuse of "slandering Islam" for something he said on 9 October.

The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) also organised the protest to prevent the politician, who is an ethnic Chinese Christian, from standing for re-election elections next year.

FPI leader Rizieq Shihab said that the protesters will spend the night in front of the State Palace until the president listens to their demands.

Although there were strong fears of violence and clashes, the event went off peacefully until late afternoon, when protesters refused to disperse and clashed with police.

Most schools and offices were closed for security reasons, although the government had asked that regular activities continue.

For their part, Indonesia’s largest Muslim movements have distanced themselves from the protest.

The storm that has hit Ahok for the past few weeks has religious and political connotations.

On one hand, radical Islamists feel their religion has been offended and some analysts warn about possible Jihadi infiltration among radical Islamist groups.

On the other, there is the race for the post of governor of Jakarta, which includes Agus Yudhoyono Harimurti Jr, son of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The latter rejected accusations that his opposition Democratic Party is behind today’s rally to support his son's candidacy.

The former president also criticised Joko Widodo for limiting the impact of the protest and people’s free speech. Susilo also asked the police to question Ahok.

Joko Widodo recently tried to ease tensions and curb criticism against his government by visiting former general Prabowo Subianto, leader of the opposition Gerindra Party. After a private talk, Subianto asked his right hand man Fadli Zon – who had accused Widodo of "defending" Ahok – not to take part in today’s protest.

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