Thousands join blasphemy protest in Indonesian capital

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Tens of thousands of conservative Muslims rallied in the Indonesian capital on Friday in the second major protest in a month against its minority Christian governor.

Police say 22,000 officers and 5,000 soldiers can be called on to ensure the demonstration stays orderly. Organizers had agreed to concentrate the protest around the vaulting national monument in central Jakarta to reduce disruptions but the area quickly overflowed.

A protest Nov. 4 against Gov. Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, who is being prosecuted for blasphemy, attracted about 100,000 people. After nightfall, it turned violent, with one death and dozens injured. Police want Friday's protest to disperse in the early afternoon following Friday's prayers.

The crowds massed in the area of the national monument formed a sea of white that spilled into surrounding streets while gridlocked motorists sat on the sidewalks. The numbers of people attending would at least match the Nov. 4 protest.

Some held huge banners calling Ahok a blasphemer who should be jailed but most chanted and prayed.

Roads leading into the city were also clogged as white-robed protesters walked to the city center from corners of the sprawling metropolis.

Separately, national police spokesman Maj. Gen. Boy Rafli Amar said police detained eight people suspected of a plot to undermine the government, but he refused to reveal their names.

"They are still being questioned by the Jakarta police," he said. "Police will announce it officially later."

Ahok is an ally of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, and the accusation of blasphemy has animated their political opponents, including hard-liners who have used the issue to seize a national stage for their extreme agenda, which includes Shariah law.

Ahok's blasphemy case took a step forward Wednesday when the Office of the State Prosecutor announced that the police dossier on the case had met the requirements for it to go to trial. The offense is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Police say Ahok can't leave the country during the case. However, hard-line Muslim groups continue to demand he be arrested.

Ahok, the first ethnic Chinese to be Jakarta governor and the first Christian in half a century, is campaigning for a second term in elections due in February.


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