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Jakarta's Christian governor probed by police for Koran remarks

The Christian politician is under fire for allegedly breaking Indonesia's blasphemy laws. Rivals have accused Ahok of insulting the Koran, prompting protest and riots in Jakarta to call for his resignation.

Jakarta's embattled governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was questioned by police on Monday, just days after a major political demonstration descended into chaos. Purnama, better known by his nickname Ahok, has been under fire from hardline Muslims in Indonesia after the minority Christian politician allegedly insulted the Koran.

Ahok, who is ethnically Chinese, is under investigation for breaking the country's strict blasphemy laws as he faces reelection. The governor, who had been favored to win February's ballot, called on his two Muslim rivals to cease using a verse from the Koran to discredit him.

His political opponents seized on the opportunity to rile up Islamist sentiment and call for his ouster in a 100,000-strong protest on Friday. Although the demonstration remained peaceful throughout the day, when night fell some protestors began throwing rocks and bottles at the thousands of police deployed to keep the peace. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons.

Several officers were injured in the scuffles, and at least one man was killed when the tear gas caused him to have an asthma attack.

Widodo: Hardliners taking advantage

Ahok is a staunch ally of President Joko Widodo, who was his predecessor in the Jakarta governorship. Widodo has spoken out publicly in support of Purnama, and criticized "political actors [who] have taken advantage of the situation." Widodo was then forced to cancel an official trip to Australia to deal with the fallout from the protest.

Speaking to the press on Monday, police spokesman Agus Rianto promised a transparent investigation into whether the Christian governor had broken the country's Islamic blasphemy laws.

The people should not "doubt our neutrality," Rianto said. "We will show the public our professionalism."

Purnama has apologized for causing offense, and the police have yet to name him as a suspect, a first step if they are considering filing charges. 

es/kms (AFP, dpa)