Indonesians take to streets to call for peace before Muslims rally

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People have taken to the streets in Indonesia to call for peace and unity ahead of an upcoming major rally by Muslims against the governor of the capital, Jakarta.

The rally was held at the site of the National Monument in the capital on Wednesday. It was organized by the military and police to call for peace and reduce tensions before the Muslim protest planned for Friday. Demonstrations were also held in other big cities.

Military and police personnel, government officials, and some members of the public attended the rally.

“Keeping Indonesia unified is our No. 1 obligation,” military chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo told the crowd. “We are gathered today across the nation to show that is true. We are united in the Republic of Indonesia. We are ready to defend our unity of diversity as patriots of the nation.”

The upcoming rally in Jakarta is expected to bring at least 150,000 people together against Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, who is being prosecuted as a suspect in a blasphemy case.

Security forces are bracing for the protest, which will be held in a park in Jakarta. About 22,000 officials, mostly police and soldiers, will be deployed at the rally.

The organizers of the Muslim rally have announced that the it would be confined to the National Monument area and would be peaceful.

Purnama, an ally of President Joko Widodo, stirred controversy and mass protests across Indonesia, after he dismissed a political attack by his opponents — who had urged Muslims not to vote for him in city governor elections next February — by citing a verse from the holy Quran. His move was perceived to be insulting to Muslim sanctities.

The governor later apologized and said he did not intend to insult Islam. Yet, at least 200,000 people protested in the streets of Jakarta on November 4 to condemn his action. They marched on the presidential palace and called for Purnama’s dismissal. The protests left one person dead and dozens more injured. Police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the demonstrators.

The Office of the State Prosecutor announced Wednesday that the police record on the case had met the requirements for Purnama’s blasphemy case to proceed to a trial.

Purnama, the first ethnic Chinese to hold the position and the first Christian in half a century, could be imprisoned for five years if found guilty.

Blasphemy is considered a criminal offense in Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population among world countries.

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