For Chinese Indonesians, the controversy has awakened painful memories of the mass protests that ousted the late Suharto during the 1998 crisis.

  30 November 2016 16:36

The capital of Muslim-majority Indonesia is on edge ahead of what is expected to be a second massive protest by conservative Muslims against its Christian governor and no group more so than its Chinese minority.

They have reason to be concerned. The movement against the governor, who is being prosecuted for allegedly insulting the Quran, has overflowed with racial slurs against his Chinese ancestry, an unnerving sign in a country with a history of lashing out violently against the ethnic minority that makes up 1 percent of its 250 million people.

The first major protest against Gov. Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama on Nov. 4 drew more than 100,000 people to Jakarta's streets. Some held up banners calling for Ahok to be killed or decrying Chinese influence. It ended in violence, with one death and dozens injured after hard-liners attacked police. A separate mob tried to invade the apartment complex where Ahok lives in the north of the city and vandalized property in the area, which is home to many Chinese.

Indonesian ethnic Chinese Jhony Tan prays at his store at the Chinatown in Jakarta.
© Associated Press/Associated Press

Hard-line organizers of the protest, who were unsatisfied by a police decision earlier this month to formally name Ahok as a suspect in the blasphemy case instead of arresting him, are promising another giant rally on Friday. After police pressure, they have agreed to concentrate the rally around a national monument in central Jakarta and insist it will be peaceful.

The furor over Ahok, sparked by his criticism of detractors who argued the Quran prohibits Muslims from having a non-Muslim leader, has highlighted religious and racial fault lines in Indonesia, the world's most populous nation, and the growing challenge from proponents of Shariah law to its secular system of government.

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