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Friday, November 18, 2016

Governor Ahok blasphemy probe, protests prompt worshippers gather in Jakarta to pray for peace

Tens of thousands of worshippers have gathered at mosques, churches and temples in Jakarta and at the national monument to pray for unity and peace, as tensions simmer over blasphemy charges against the Christian and ethnic Chinese governor.

It comes a fortnight after more than 100,000 protestors led by hard-line Muslim groups took to the streets to demand the Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, be arrested and jailed for comments he made about the Koran.

Dubbed the 4/11 rally, the crowd turned violent after dark attempting to break through police lines in north Jakarta, near the Governor's home.

Shops were looted and cars destroyed.

Catholic priest Christopher Kristiono Puspo led a congregation at the city's main Cathedral on Friday morning.

"The request came from the military chief for us to perform a mass, to pray together," he told the ABC.

"The content of the sermon was about gratitude for the peace that we've had and because of the protest that made us fear we wanted to express gratitude and restate that we are all one nation and one language."

At the city's grand Istiqlal moque across the road and the nearby Monus, Jakarta's national monument, Muslims also gathered to pray amid a large military and police presence.

President shows important sign of unity

The Indonesian President, who cancelled his visit to Australia because of the violent protest, has spent the past fortnight trying to calm tensions.

President Joko Widodo met his former presidential candidate rival, Prabowo Subianto, at the Presidential Palace in an important sign of unity.

The meeting was broadcast live on national Indonesian TV with the men talking of the importance of maintaining diversity in Indonesia saying they did not want the nation to fall apart because of political differences.

Governor Ahok was this week named as a suspect by police and will appear court to answer the blasphemy allegations against him.

The offence carries a maximum five years in prison.

Governor to face court, high-profile electoral opposition

In an exclusive interview with the ABC aired this week he welcomed a day in court.

"I need to go to court to prove this is political and law," Ahok told 730.

"It is not easy, you send more than 100,000 people, most of them, if you look at the news, they said they got the money 500,000 Rupiah."

In a gubernatorial election due in Jakarta in February next year, Ahok will come up against a former education minister, Anies Baswedan and the son of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, who was a surprise late entry in the race.

The former president has rejected allegations he was the mastermind behind the 4/11 protest.

In September, the ABC filmed in a mosque in central Jakarta, during which the cleric warned the congregation they were not permitted to vote for a non-Muslim according to verse 51 of the Muslim holy book.

Another rally against Ahok is being planned for November 25 but it is unclear whether it will proceed and whether groups like the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front can organise as large a crowd a second time around.

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