Widodo cancels trip amid riots

Violent protests are relatively rare in Indonesia. Source: YouTube

The Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, has postponed a visit to Australia amid Jakarta riots as Muslim radicals demand the resignation of the city’s Christian governor who they say insulted the Koran.

Widodo told the press that “political actors” were behind the protests against Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is hoping to be re-elected in February,

Widodo, who has been condemned for failing to control conservative Islamic groups, held the role before he became president in 2014 and it is regarded as a key position.

The president was due to boost ties with Australia, deepening economic and maritime relations and to counter Islamist militancy. Negotiations on the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement would continue.

“Looking at the latest situation and condition in Indonesia that require the presence of the president, President Joko Widodo decided to postpone his scheduled state visit to Australia,” the president’s staff said.

Widodo vowed not to interfere in any legal proceedings against Purnama, but said justice would be “swiftly, firmly and transparently” carried out.

Purnama is a Christian and the first ethnic Chinese Indonesia to hold the Jakarta governor’s job. The protests were largely peaceful until anger grew and tear gas and water cannon were used.

One person reportedly died of an asthma attack and more than 100 were injured in the violence, many of them were police officers. Three vehicles were burned and 18 were damaged, police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar told the media.

The clashes broke out in northern Jakarta, where large non-Muslim communities live, and about 15 people were arrested there for looting a convenience store, Amar said.

Security officers guarded a temple and school.

The Islamic Defenders Front, a group that led the protest, denied responsibility for the violence and said the “provocateurs” were the police who fired tear gas.

Religiously inspired protests are relatively rare in the archipelago.

Ethnic Chinese make up just over one-hundredth of Indonesia’s 250 million people, and they typically do not enter politics although they dominate the nation’s economy.

The community faced persecution and violence when former dictator Suharto was forced to leave office in the late 1990s.

Purnama is accused of insulting Islam for supposedly humorously saying his opponents had used a verse from the Koran, implying that Muslims should not choose non-Muslims as leaders, to trick voters.