The Jakarta Post
As hundreds of Islamic hard-liners leave their hometowns to join a planned rally in Jakarta on Friday, the police and military have flexed their muscles, showing off thousands of personnel ready to secure the demonstration.
Protesters in some regions, however, decided to hold simultaneous demonstrations in nearby cities, expanding the scale of the tensions to the national level, with security concerns raised across the archipelago.
Hundreds of people reportedly left Bandung, West Java, on Wednesday to join the Nov. 4 rally in Jakarta, which is aimed at demanding the prosecution of gubernatorial candidate and incumbent Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama for blasphemy.
West Java Islamic Movement Alliance head Asep Syaripudin said 11 buses and 23 cars had left for Jakarta so far.
He said the demonstrators came from different groups, such as the Indonesian Muslim Student Action Union, the Greater Bandung Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and the Islamic Reform Movement.
He added that they came from areas across the province, including Sumedang, Garut, Tasikmalaya, Ciamis and Pangandaran regencies.
Separately, the leader of the FPI’s Karawang chapter, Ade Dahyar, said the organization would send at least 400 of its members.
FPI members from Jambi will also join the rally in Jakarta. “As many as 162 FPI members from Jambi will depart on Thursday to join FPI members from all over Indonesia,” Jambi FPI regional representative board secretary Abdullah Hamid said on Wednesday.
In Pekanbaru, Riau, thousands of hard-liners claimed they would hold a rally in the provincial capital.
The Pekanbaru Police said they had received a proposal from Islamic organizations to stage a rally that could see over 2,000 demonstrators hit the city’s streets.
Pekanbaru Police chief Sr. Comr. Toni Hermawan said some 500 personnel would secure the rally.
Separately, head of the Religious Affairs Ministry’s Riau office, Ahmad Supardi Hasibuan, said he had gathered all executives of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) from across the province to discuss the planned rally, as he had heard that hundreds of Muslims from Riau would also depart for Jakarta.
Pekanbaru city councilor Mulyadi was among those intending to join the peaceful rally in Jakarta. “I am already in Jakarta. We are not being paid for the rally. This is purely my personal intent,” the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) politician said.
Similar rallies are reportedly set to take place in other cities, such as Makassar and Surabaya.
In Jakarta, some 5,000 personnel from the National Police, the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the Jakarta Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) gathered at the National Monument in Central Jakarta on Wednesday. They were part of 18,000 personnel being readied ahead of the rally.
National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian and TNI commander Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo attended the briefing to signal the level of attention they are giving the issue, as the threat of violence continues to loom.
Several personnel from the West Java Police were also seen at the ceremony wearing white Muslim caps and clothing over their police attire. They are to be deployed at the forefront of the rally.
Tito said the meeting was primarily intended to ensure that the personnel were ready to secure the capital for the upcoming gubernatorial election, but highlighted the Nov. 4 rally as a phase of the campaign that could potentially “create violence”.
“It is different in Jakarta, where citizens are now becoming polarized and have their own interests,” Tito told reporters after the meeting.
He said he hoped the rally would run “smoothly and peacefully”, adding that police personnel set to secure the rally would not carry guns or live bullets, and would instead be equipped with non-lethal weapons such as water cannons and tear gas.
“We have prepared [all of the measures] just in case [there is a riot], you know. We always think of the worst scenario,” Tito said.
Nurul Fitri Ramadhani, Marguerite Afra Sapiie, Jon Afrizal and Andi Hajramurni contributed to this story from Jakarta, Jambi and Makassar
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