Rally erupts in violence
Haeril Halim and Ina Parlina
The Jakarta Post
A massive rally calling for the criminal prosecution of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja “Ahok” Purnama for alleged blasphemy ended in violence on Friday night as protesters defied a police order to disperse.
At midnight, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo praised the rally’s Muslim leaders for keeping the rally in order during the day. “However, we regretted the violence in the evening. Political actors took advantage of this situation,” he said.
The President further stated that the legal process against Ahok would take place in a transparent fashion.
The anti-Ahok rally ran peacefully early in the day, but soon after dusk, violence broke out following a scuffle involving a small number of protesters, who were allegedly members of the Muslim Students Association (HMI) and activists from the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), the firebrand Islamic organization that played a leading role in Friday’s protest.
In a strange turn of events, the FPI joined forces with the police at one point to call for the HMI students to disperse and not to get closer to the State Palace.
As the scuffle broke out between the riot police and the alleged HMI students, unidentified protesters torched three police trucks parked on the corner of Monas Square.
In the midst of the chaotic situation, the police started firing tear gas and used water canons to disperse the crowd.
Learning about the clash, hundreds of protesters, who were on their way back to Istiqlal Mosque, started streaming back to the area near the State Palace.
Three police officer was reported to have been injured in the confrontation.
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto went down to the protest site near the State Palace soon after 9 p.m. to calm down the protesters.
“They should have all dispersed. They know me, they should have calmed down. Back off,” Wiranto told the protesters.
Some of the protesters retreated and headed toward the House of Representatives complex.
Earlier this week, People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Zulkifli Hasan, a National Mandate Party (PAN) politician, said the compound would be open to protesters who wanted to spend the night there after the protest.
Earlier on in the protest, signs promoting violence could be seen in the crowd, which was composed of a number of Muslim groups. Some of the signs used strong language to condemn Ahok’s statements about a verse in the Quran, which the protestors deemed as insulting to the Muslim faith.
Carrying banners reading “prosecute Ahok,” “arrest Ahok,” and “Ahok go home,” some groups in the crowd threatened Ahok with death.
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