Jakarta leader faces marathon grilling after protest

Jakarta leader questioned after violent hardline demo

Jakarta (AFP) - The Indonesian capital's Christian governor faced a marathon police grilling Monday for allegedly insulting Islam, after the accusations sparked a violent mass protest by hardliners in the Muslim-majority country.

Friday's demonstration started peacefully but descended into chaos as night fell with protesters torching police cars and hurling rocks and bottles in the heart of Jakarta, as they demanded the leader be jailed for blasphemy.

Scores of police officers were injured and one man died in the clashes close to the presidential palace, reportedly after tear gas fired by authorities triggered an asthma attack.

The protest involving tens of thousands of hardliners was sparked by accusations governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian and a member of Indonesia's ethnic Chinese minority, insulted the Koran while campaigning in elections for the Jakarta governorship.

He said his opponents were using a Koranic verse, which suggests Muslims should not choose non-Muslims as leaders, in order to trick people into voting against him.

Police had already launched the investigation into Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, before Friday's protest after Muslim groups accused him of breaking the country's tough blasphemy laws.

On Monday the governor was questioned as a witness at national police headquarters in Jakarta, emerging after nine hours and making his way through a media scrum.

Purnama dodged questions about the case, only telling reporters: "I want to go home, I'm hungry."

Police said they plan to finish questioning about 30 witnesses over the case this week and will decide next week whether any crime had been committed.

If found guilty Purnama -- who is favourite to win the February elections against two Muslim opponents -- could be jailed for up to five years.

Purnama has apologised for his remarks, claiming that he was criticising his political rivals who were using the verse rather than the Koran itself. But this has done little to appease his opponents.

Thousands of police and soldiers were deployed before the rally in the capital of the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, but it still took officers hours to quell the violence with tear gas and water cannons.

The protest also forced President Joko Widodo to cancel an official visit to Australia due to start at the weekend.