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Indonesia leader postpones Australia trip after protests

A policeman fires a tear gas canister to disperse Muslim protesters near the presidential palace during clashes after a rally against governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian accused of insulting Islam, in Jakarta, on November 4, 2016 © AFP / Gianrigo Marletta

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Nov 5 – Indonesian President Joko Widodo has postponed a trip to Australia due to start Sunday after violence broke out at a mass rally against a Christian governor accused of insulting Islam, the government said.

Around 50,000 people marched in Jakarta on Friday to protest comments made by governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, with clashes erupting between police and demonstrators — one of whom reportedly died of an asthma attack.

“Current development has required the President to stay in Indonesia,” a statement released on Saturday by the foreign ministry said.

Widodo visited Australia in 2014 for the G20 shortly after being elected as president, but this month’s trip would have marked his first official bilateral visit.

The statement added that Widodo had called Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to inform him that the trip, scheduled for 6-8 November, would be delayed.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo visited Australia in 2014 for the G20 shortly after being elected, but this month’s trip would have marked his first official bilateral visit © AFP/File / Peter Parks

Turnbull responded in a statement: “We were sorry we would not be able to welcome him to Australia tomorrow but entirely understood the need for him to remain in Indonesia at this time.“

The protest in Indonesia’s capital was triggered by accusations that Purnama, better known by his nickname Ahok, insulted Islam by criticising opponents who used Koranic references to attack him ahead of an election in February.

Purnama apologised for the remarks, but his opponents have built a groundswell of support calling for his arrest and incarceration under Indonesia’s tough blasphemy laws.

Demonstrations were initially peaceful but turned ugly in the evening when protesters refused to go home, resulting in thousands of hardliners clashing with police, setting vehicles ablaze and hurling bottles and rocks at officers.

Police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar said one man died of an asthma attack during the protest, although some local media sites suggested it could have been brought on by tear gas.

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About 160 people had to be treated for the effects of tear gas and eight police officers were also injured in the protest, he said.

Ten people thought to have instigated the violence have been arrested.

Police said they would be questioning the governor on Monday over the allegations which would be handled “quickly and transparently”.


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