November 05, 2016
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Saturday canceled a visit to Australia after a massive rally in the capital by Muslim hard-liners descended into violence, leaving one dead and nearly 200 injured.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry said that Jokowi’s trip scheduled from Sunday to Tuesday will be rescheduled because “current development has required the president to stay in Indonesia.” Jokowi addressed the nation late Friday after clashes broke out between police and hard-liners who refused to disperse and demanded the arrest of Jakarta’s minority-Christian governor for alleged blasphemy.
National police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar told a news conference Saturday that one elderly man died from asthma attack after being exposed to tear gas, and more than 90 police and soldiers were injured, eight of them seriously. He said that about 160 protesters were hurt from tear gas effects, including four who were hospitalized.
Jokowi blamed “political actors” for taking advantage of the rally. He didn’t elaborate, but his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had backed plans for the protest, drew tens of thousands of people.
The accusation of blasphemy against Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese and minority Christian who is an ally of Jokowi, has galvanized Jokowi’s political opponents in the Muslim-majority nation of 250 million, and given a notorious group of hard-liners a national stage.
The Islamic Defenders Front, a vigilante group that wants to impose Shariah law, is demanding Ahok’s arrest after a video circulated online in which he joked to an audience about a passage in the Quran that could be interpreted as prohibiting Muslims from accepting non-Muslims as leaders. The governor has apologized for the comment and met with police.
Amar said the situation became uncontrollable when protesters broke through police barricades and security barriers in an attempt to enter the presidential palace before they were stopped by police firing tear gas. Three police and military trucks were burnt down and 18 vehicles damaged in the violence.
He said police are still investigating who was behind the violence and whether any political elements were involved with the aim of creating unrest. Ten people were arrested for allegedly provoking riots near the presidential palace and 15 others for vandalism in northern Jakarta.
Jakarta police spokesman Awi Setiyono said rioting in north Jakarta involved the looting of a convenience store and damage to police vehicles.