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Indonesia police to boost security at Jakarta governor's blasphemy trial

[JAKARTA] Indonesian police said on Monday they would deploy plainclothes officers to oversee security at the blasphemy trial of Jakarta's Christian governor, seen by many as a test of religious freedom in the world's largest Muslim-majority nation.

Members of Islamic groups are expected to rally outside the courthouse in central Jakarta on Tuesday, demanding that governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian, who they claim insulted the Koran, be taken immeditely into custody under arrest.

"The court has requested security for the judges, attendees and for the area in general," said senior police official Martinus Sitompul.

"Among them will be (plainclothes) personnel who will mingle in with attendees."

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Mr Purnama's comments, made in late September, on his opponents' use of the Koran in political campaigning has incensed many Muslim groups.

Tens of thousands of Muslims, led by hardliners, took to the streets in December and November, to call for Purnama's arrest and urge voters not to reelect him in an election for governor in February.

The rallies, with over 150,000 participants each, were the biggest Jakarta has seen in nearly two decades.

President Joko Widodo, seen as an ally to Mr Purnama, has blamed "political actors" for fueling the protests, but declined to elaborate. Mr Widodo has faced widespread criticism for not doing enough to protect the country's religious minorities.

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, but the country of 250 million also has sizeable Christian, Hindu and Buddhist communities and dozens of groups that adhere to traditional beliefs.

Mr Purnama, if found guilty of blasphemy, faces up to five years in prison. Almost all blasphemy cases in recent years have ended in conviction.

As Jakarta's first ethnic Chinese governor, Mr Purnama won kudos for shaking up the city's sleepy bureaucracy and for taking steps to ease the city's notorious traffic. But his abrasive language and insistence on clearing the city's slums has alienated many voters.

Recent opinion polls showed Mr Purnama, once the frontrunner in the race to lead Jakarta, has now slipped to second place, behind Agus Yudhoyono, the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.