Thousands rally in Indonesia to celebrate diversity

Indonesian people shout slogans as they attend a pro-government rally to call for unity in Jakarta on Dec 4, 2016.
Indonesian people shout slogans as they attend a pro-government rally to call for unity in Jakarta on Dec 4, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - Thousands gathered along the main thoroughfare in downtown Jakarta during the capital's weekly Car-Free-Sunday (Dec 4) to celebrate Indonesia's diversity.

The Kita Indonesia or "We are Indonesia" event, comes just two days after half a million Muslims took part in a mass prayer in the grounds of the National Monument, as part of a protest against Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama for blasphemy.

Golkar and NasDem parties, however, denied that they organised the Sunday event to "counter" Friday's protest, saying it was held to promote tolerance in the country instead.

"We want to remind the public that we are a pluralistic nation and encourage (the) public and political figures not to disseminate hatred," NasDem executive Taufik Basari told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

Mr Basuki, better known as Ahok, is a Chinese-Christian politician running for re-election but now faces charges for insulting Islam.

The 50-year-old is a close ally of President Joko Widodo and his re-election bid is backed by the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Golkar, NasDem and Hanura parties.

No official count of the attendance for Sunday's event was available, but organisers had expected half a million to participate in the rally which took place from 8am to 11am during the weekly car-free day, when a 5km stretch of road from Jalan Jenderal Sudirman and Jalan M. H. Thamrin, is closed to traffic.

Thousands, including people from outside Jakarta were spotted at the event on Sunday. They were heard chanting pro-Ahok slogans, sang songs, took group photos and were treated to cultural performances by groups from Bali, North Sumatra, East Kalimantan as well as elsewhere in Java.

The event went on peacefully and crowds promptly dispersed just before roads were re-opened to traffic when the car-free period ended at 11am.

The anti-Ahok protest on Friday - the third in as many months organised by hardline Muslim groups against him, has turned next February's gubernatorial election into a test of racial and religious tolerance in the Muslim-majority country.

Mr Joko had hinted after the second protest on Nov 4 that "political actors" were using these rallies against Mr Basuki to destabilise the country.

The police said on Saturday that they have thwarted a plot to oust Mr Joko, and arrested 11 people, including Ms Rachmawati Sukarnoputri, a daughter of Indonesia's founding president Sukarno, over an alleged conspiracy to topple the government during Friday's protest.

Investigations into the attempted coup are still ongoing.

tkchan@sph.com.sg