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Tensions flare at Jakarta protest

AAP logoAAP 3/11/2016 Lauren Farrow and Heru Rahadi

Tensions have flared at massive demonstration in Jakarta as tens of thousands of protesters march towards the presidential palace, shutting down major roads in the capital.

Not long after police spoke directly to protesters over a loud speaker praising them for holding a peaceful protest, a group of young men waving the green and black flags of the Islamic Students Association began pelting officers with water bottles and sticks.

Police responded by putting on riot gear and creating a wall of officers about ten deep.

Protesters are calling for the arrest of the Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, commonly referred to as Ahok, over comments he made refering to the Koran.

Thousands of military are stationed behind barbed wire at the palace and streets around Jakarta's largest mosque Masjid Istiqlal have been shut down.

The hardline Muslim group, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) has called on people across the archipelago to descend on Jakarta for a "constitutional jihad", saying Ahok, should be jailed.

Their members, as well as others from organisations such as the Islamic Students Associatoin (HMI), Islamic Defender Troop (LPI), A Koran discussion group - Az Zikra - have heeded the call.

Although the demonstration was promoted as an attack on Ahok, protesters have also turned their attention towards President Joko Widodo who called for calm in the lead up to the rally this week.

"(President Joko Widodo) is no longer pro-people," a protester yelled through a megaphone.

"The 4th of November is not the only day that Muslim people will fight.

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

As a Christian ethnic Chinese Indonesian, the straight-talking Ahok has long been a target for hardline groups.

But when last month he said a Koranic verse was being used to manipulate voters into voting for a Muslim leader at the February gubernatorial elections, tensions flared.

Muslim cleric Hilman Fauzi, 27, from Bogor on the outskirts of Jakarta, said he had no problem with Ahok until his comments last month about how a Koranic verse was being used to lie to voters.

"Even though I'm not a (voter) in Jakarta. What (Ahok) did has hurt us," he told AAP

This is about religion," 25-year-old construction worker Ucin told AAP.

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