Violence, chaos mark anti-Ahok Islamist rally in Jakarta; Jokowi urges calm

Gangs of jihadists torched police cars and attacked officers late on Friday night.

Anti-Ahok rally
Hardline Muslim groups block a street during a protest against Jakarta's incumbent governor Ahok Reuters

Violence and chaos marked the rally organised by Muslim hardliners against Jakarta's Chinese Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, on Friday, with gangs of jihadists torching police cars and attacking officers late in the night.

Police had to fire tear gas, water cannon and truncheons into thousands of rioting protesters to bring the situation under control. Indonesian President Joko Widodo vehemently condemned the riot and urged protesters to return to their homes.

"People should have been dispersed but it ended up in chaos," said the president, flanked by senior officials including Indonesia's military chief, security minister and national police chief, according to the Straits Times. "I ask the protesters to go home, and let law enforcement do their job in a fair way," he added.

The violence took place just at a stone's throw away from the presidential palace and city hall after the hardliners clashed with the police force and hurled bottles and rocks at officers, injuring several.

According to AFP, Jakarta police spokesman Awi Setiyono said an elderly man died and police is investigating into the matter. The violence marred the otherwise peaceful rally where Muslims hardliners were protesting against the governor's alleged profanities.

Governor Ahok was highly condemned for allegedly misquoting a verse from the Quran during one of his speeches in September. During the speech, Ahok criticised his opponents for citing a verse in the Quran which warns Muslims against forming an alliance with Christians and Jews saying that they were "lying". This led to an outrage and the governor was accused of criticising the Islamic holy text.

Several Muslim organisers had already asked their members to boycott the demonstration as they feared that the rally not only will spur ethnic and religious tensions in the country and jeopardise next year's much-anticipated Jakarta gubernatorial race, in which Ahok is seeking a second term.

After a meeting with the president, Nahdlatul Ulama Supreme Council chairman Ahmad Ishomuddin urged people not to participate in the rally saying, "Muslims should avoid the rally and not create troubles. We hope the demonstration will pass peacefully. We certainly don't want any casualty."