Helicopters drop warning leaflets, Jokowi appeals for calm ahead of demonstration on Nov 25

Indonesian President Joko Widodo called for calm after helicopters dropped leaflets over the capital, warning residents of possible violence during the upcoming rallies led by Islamists.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo called for calm after helicopters dropped leaflets over the capital, warning residents of possible violence during the upcoming rallies led by Islamists.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo called for calm on Thursday (Nov 24) amid simmering religious tension as helicopters dropped police leaflets over the capital, warning residents of the risk of harsh penalties if new rallies led by Islamists turn violent.

Mr Joko sought this week to reassure investors and show his political coalition is united after over 100,000 Muslims, led by hardline groups, took to the streets on Nov 4 to call for the ouster of Jakarta's Christian governor, Mr Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, accused of insulting the Quran.

One person was killed and more than 100 were wounded when the protest, the biggest in the city in recent years, briefly turned violent, and police fired tear gas and water cannon. "I just want to convey one word and that is optimism. Let us not forget that word... even though the political situation is a little heated," Mr Joko, popularly known as Jokowi, told an investors' forum.

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

Mr Joko has met with top political, security and religious figures since the Nov 4 rally, after accusing unidentified "political actors" of inflaming the tension.

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

Police last week named Mr Basuki a suspect in the blasphemy probe. He faces up to five years in prison if found guilty.

Despite moderate Muslim groups now calling for restraint, Indonesia's police chief has said that some demonstrators may use rallies on Friday (Nov 25) to destabilise the government.

One hardline group, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), said its members planned to march again on Friday, though it pledged it would be peaceful.

Police plan to deploy 18,000 officers for any new protests and have used helicopters to drop about 50,000 leaflets in parts of the capital of 10 million, where high-rise apartments sit next to slums.

The leaflets warn residents not to disrupt public order or undertake "subversive" activities, which carry punishments including death or life in prison. "These are extra security measures and preemptive moves to remind the public not to violate the law," Jakarta police spokesman Awi Setiyono said.

Mr Basuki, who is running for re-election in February, is up against two Muslim rivals. A poll published on Thursday (Nov 23) showed he has slipped to second place as his popularity declines amid the blasphemy allegations.

Rival Agus Yudhoyono, son of previous president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, had taken the lead, the poll showed.