Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo visit to Australia was cancelled after clashes broke out between police and Muslim hard liners who refused to disperse and demanded the arrest of Jakarta’s minority-Christian governor for alleged blasphemy.
Jokowi addressed the nation late on Thursday after clashes broke in the capital by Muslim hard-liners descended into violence, leaving one dead and 12 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.”
Police said one elderly man died from asthma attack after being exposed to tear gas, and the injured included eight soldiers and police and four civilians.
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. As the rally turned violent overnight, MetroTV reported that a mob tried to enter the housing complex where Ahok lives in northern Jakarta but were stopped by police who fired tear gas.
Jakarta police spokesman Awi Setiyono said rioting in north Jakarta involving the looting of a convenience store and damage to police vehicles had been brought under control.