Islamists in the Indonesian capital gathered by the tens of thousands to call for the ouster of Jakarta's governor. Despite heavy police presence, the peace protest descended into violence as night fell.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo urged calm early on Saturday as widespread protest in Jakarta gave way to rioting. One person was killed and seven injured as the demonstration turned into gangs of hardline Muslims attacking police officers and setting fire to cars near the presidential palace.
"People should have been dispersed but it ended up in chaos," said Widodo, "I ask the protesters to go home, and let law enforcement do their job in a fair way."
50,000 people gathered in the capital to march against its governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. Purnama is part of the Indonesia's Christian minority, and has been accused of insulting the Koran after he told opponents to cease using the text to criticize him ahead of new elections in February.
Widodo: Politicians taking advantage of unrest
Purnama, a staunch Widodo ally, has apologized for causing any offense, but Muslim rivals have capitalized on the opportunity to sow opposition to his leadership. Some have called for his removal under Indonesia's strict blasphemy laws, while more militant figures on the political fringes have even called for his death.
Some 18,000 security forces were deployed across Jakarta on Friday to maintain control over the crowd, but as night fell the peaceful rally descended into violence. As protestors began throwing stones and hurling bottles at police, officers responded with tear gas and water cannons.
It took hours to subdue the rioting as demonstrators dispersed from downtown into parts of impoverished northern Jakarta. At least one man died in the chaos, though authorities said the man was elderly and they had not yet confirmed the cause of death.
Earlier this week, President Widodo had met with political and religious leaders as he looked for a solution to the religious unrest. This was complicated by predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono supporting the rally on national television, prompting Widodo to decry how "political actors have taken advantage of the situation."
A fierce crusader against corruption, Purnama is seeking a second term as Jakarta's governor – a position once held by Widodo. But he has earned plenty of enemies as his plans for urban renewal have evicted thousands from the city's slums.
es/kl (AP, AFP)