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Joko: Thanks for keeping rally peaceful

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More than 200,000 Indonesians protest against Jakatra governor allegedly insulting Islam

JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo yesterday thanked more than 200,000 protesters for a peaceful rally at the National Monument and urged them all to return home safely.

Mr Joko was addressing the crowd after joining them for mass Friday prayers held as part of the rally against Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama over supposed blasphemy.

"Allahu Akbar, I want to recognise the people here for following the law, which allowed this (rally) to go well," said the president, better known as Jokowi.

"So once again, thank you and each of you please return to wherever you have come from."

Allahu Akbar is an Islamic phrase that means God is the greatest.

The protesters had gathered at the iconic park in Central Jakarta to take part in the protest, saying Mr Basuki had insulted Islam.

Many were heard chanting "Arrest that Ahok", referring to Mr Basuki by his nickname.

The massive crowd attending the rally, organised by the National Fatwa Guardians of the Indonesian Ulema Council and led by the Islamic Defenders Front, spilled out onto the streets.

That led to traffic on many trunk roads in downtown Jakarta coming to a standstill from as early as 6am local time.

The gridlock continued as the crowds dispersed and moved to train stations, bus stops and other gathering points where coaches waited to take them back to their home towns.

The police and armed forces deployed more than 20,000 personnel in the capital over fears that the rally might escalate into a riot.

The rally against Mr Basuki has thrust issues of race and religion to the forefront of the upcoming gubernatorial election, turning it into a test of religious tolerance in Indonesia.

Mr Basuki is in a three-way fight in February's gubernatorial election.

Initially a hot favourite, his popularity has dipped after a video of him talking to a group of constituents in September was posted online.

In the video, he allegedly told them not to be misled by his opponents citing a verse in the Quran to urge Muslims not to vote for a non-Muslim.

Jakarta's Attorney-General's Office on Thursday filed blasphemy charges against the 50-year-old politician in the North Jakarta District Court.

This means Mr Basuki will have to answer to the allegations in court and if found guilty, may face up to five years in jail.

Race & ReligionindonesiaJoko Widodo