World

Jakarta police ban extremist rally ahead of election

Rally too close to polls, suspected to be political in nature: Indonesian police chief

JAKARTA: Indonesian police have banned a rally organised by Islamist groups ahead of next week's hotly contested election to lead the city, officials said on Tuesday.

The rally on Saturday, just four days before voting day, would have been the latest in a series of mass demonstrations by Muslims against the incumbent governor, a Christian, who they claim insulted the Quran.

The protests, led by militant groups and attended by hundreds of thousands of people, have raised fears of creeping religious intolerance and political instability in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation.

Police said they had received notice of the rally last week from the organisers, a large group of Islamic organisations led by hardliners such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).

"Police will not allow it," said Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono, without elaborating.

TOO CLOSE

Earlier in the day, national police chief Tito Karnavian said that the rally was suspected to be political in nature and came too close to the period when all candidates and their supporters are required to stop canvassing.

Saturday is the last day when campaigning is permitted.

Indonesian law allows freedom of assembly. Police did not say what the punishment will be for violating the rally ban.

One protest organiser called on the police to explain why the rally had been banned. Said FPI spokesman Slamet Maarif: "The police need to clarify what the danger is, if they say there is any."

Jakarta's first ethnic Chinese and Christian governor, Mr Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, is on trial for blasphemy charges that many see as unfair and politically motivated.

He remains a front runner in the race to lead the city of over 10 million people, after he resolvedflooding issues, cleaned up the city and clamped down on vice.

His main rival is Mr Agus Yudhoyono, son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and a Muslim. - REUTERS

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