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Jakarta protest demands governor's arrest

AAP logoAAP 4/11/2016 Lauren Farrow and Heru Rahadi

Tens of thousands of protesters have descended on Jakarta's streets, shutting down major roads and hurling water bottles as they demanded the jailing of the capital's governor over comments he made about the Koran.

Hardline Muslim groups began calling on people to join them for the demonstration on the capital more than two weeks ago.

By Friday morning it was clear thousands had heeded the call.

People spilled out onto the streets around Jakarta's largest mosque, Masjid Istiqlal, laying down cloth and newspaper for prayer.

Once that finished the crowd began to march towards the Presidential Palace, waving flags and screaming out "arrest Ahok".

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, commonly referred to as Ahok, is the capital's straight-talking Christian governor who is ethnically Chinese Indonesian.

Tensions over his leadership were inflamed when he said in late September that his detractors were using a verse in the Koran to manipulate followers into not voting for him.

The verse has been interpreted by some to mean Muslims should not elect a non-Muslim leader.

Ahok has apologised and insisted he meant no offence, but he is currently under investigation for blasphemy charges.

Muslim cleric Hilman Fauzi, 27, from Bogor on the outskirts of Jakarta, said that even though he is not eligible to vote, " What (Ahok) did has hurt us".

"He has been forgiven but the legal process must continue to show us that he is not immune from the law," he told AAP.

As protesters marched from three directions to converge near the capital's presidential palace, this anger towards Ahok became palpable at times.

"The 4th of November is not the only day that Muslim people will fight," one protester yelled at police.

"I am ready to be shot. Whoever (has the courage) to shoot, please go ahead."

Speaking over loud speaker, police at one point thanked the protesters for carrying out a peaceful demonstration.

However, this quiet was occasionally splintered as demonstrators - spurred on by young men waving flags for the Islamic Student Association (HMI) - tried to break down the barbed wire separating them from police.

When this didn't work they began hurling sticks and water bottles at officers.

However, other people in the crowd, urged calm, warning of a violent demonstration.

Riding into the crowd on top of a truck with large loudspeakers attached to it, the head of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) Rizieq Syihab wore a green turban and a white top - the colours of the hardline group.

"We want the president to order the police to jail Ahok right away. Don't make excuse for not being able to interfere," he said.

Despite the fighting words, protesters began filtering out of the demonstration on Friday evening with many expected to catch buses to their home villages outside Jakarta.

Fears of the protest becoming violent had not come to fruition by 6pm local time.

While the protest was in full swing, Ahok was campaigning in Muarakarang at a kampung in North Jakarta.

President Joko Widodo was visiting the railway project at Jakarta's airport.

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