Indonesian government determined to prevent growth of radicalism, says Jokowi ahead of planned protests

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Tuesday (Nov 22) he was determined to "prevent the growth of radicalism".
Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Tuesday (Nov 22) he was determined to "prevent the growth of radicalism". PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Tuesday (Nov 22) he was determined to "prevent the growth of radicalism", apparently responding to rumours that Islamist extremists were planning protests to destabilise his government.

Officials say there has been mounting alarm within the government since more than 100,000 Muslims, led by hardliners, took to the streets of Jakarta on November 4 to demand the ouster of the capital's governor, a Christian, over alleged blasphemy.

National Police Chief Tito Karnavian warned on Monday (Nov 21) that certain groups may try to storm Parliament during rallies that are expected this Friday and on December 2.

"There are hidden methods by certain groups to enter and occupy Parliament... If (these actions) are intended to overthrow the government, that's a violation of the law,"Chief Tito said, according to media.

Mr Joko has blamed "political actors" for fanning violence that erupted during the November 4 protest, though he has not named anyone.

Analysts have said opponents of Mr Joko, the first Indonesian president to have come from outside the political elite or military, are using the Islamic furore over the Jakarta governor to undermine him.

Mr Joko held talks with a senior coalition partner on Tuesday, the latest in a series of meetings with top political, religious and military officials to signal the unity of his government and support from the security establishment.

"I want to emphasise the spirit of pluralism... and the government is determined to prevent the growth of radicalism in this country," he told reporters after the meeting at the presidential palace.

Mr Joko has met repeatedly with the military and called for security forces to be on alert against further unrest.

He has also met with top politicians, including the leader of his backing party, Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri, and opposition leader Prabowo Subianto. The three have jointly called for calm.

The trigger for the tension was a comment that Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the first Christian and ethnic Chinese in the job, made about his opponents' use of the Quran in political campaigning.

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population and is also home to sizeable Christian and Hindu populations.

Mr Basuki, popularly known as Ahok, is running for re-election in February against two Muslim candidates, including the son of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Mr Joko has been seen as one of the governor's main supporters.

Police have opened a probe into allegations Mr Basuki insulted the Quran and questioned him on Tuesday. Prosecutors are expected to bring a case to court in the coming weeks. He could face up to five years in prison if found guilty.

Officials are also investigating a social media campaign calling for a run on banks on November 25 in protest over the government's handling of the complaint against Mr Basuki, the police press relations department said on Twitter.

"It is our shared responsibility not to follow suggestions that are intended to inflict damage," Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati told reporters on Monday, in response to a question about a possible run on banks. "...Economic recovery and stability are very important for the public."