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Indonesian Muslims hold protest to demand justice for flag burning

JAKARTA (Reuters) - About 1,000 Indonesian Muslims held a rally in the capital, Jakarta, on Friday to protest against the burning by members of the country’s biggest Muslim organisation of a flag bearing an Islamic tenet.

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The protest comes after a video went viral in Indonesia this week showing members of the youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) burning a rival group’s flag with the Tauhid, an Islamic concept asserting that there is only one God.

The peaceful protest was a reminder of the ardour that can arise as the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country approaches important elections.

Leaders of the rally urged people to defend Islam as protesters, many wearing white robes, chanted “There is no God but Allah” and waved black and white flags.

“We want justice for the burning of the flag, for those who are responsible,” said Fahruh Rozi, 47, a member of Forum Masjid Al Falah, one of a number of conservative groups at the rally.

“We want to raise awareness for respect for Islam. It’s not to do with politics or elections,” said Rozi, who wore a white shirt and skull cap with a black bandana bearing the creed.

Indonesia holds presidential and parliamentary elections next April and parties and candidates have been courting the votes from members of the dominant religion.

President Joko Widodo, who is seeking a second term, has sought to strengthen his ties with moderate Islamic leaders and appointed Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate.

A loose grouping of Islamists were behind protests that culminated in the election defeat and jailing for blasphemy in 2017 of Jakarta’s ethnic-Chinese and Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Widodo ally known as Ahok.

“The difference with the case of Ahok is that in this case there was a flag that was burned. We want to ensure this doesn’t happen again. In Ahok’s case it was blasphemy”, said Rozi.

There have been sporadic tensions between more moderate organisations like NU, which says it has about 40 million members, and other more hardline groups.

The flag burning happened in West Java after members of the youth wing of NU objected to a man carrying a flag from Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), which is seeking an Islamic caliphate and has been banned in the country.

Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Robert Birsel