Indonesian president urges calm after clashes over Aceh church

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Indonesian President Joko Widodo appealed for calm Wednesday after one person was killed in violence that followed the burning of a church in Aceh, the country’s most devoutly Muslim province.

Hundreds of people set fire to a church in Aceh Singkil district on Tuesday, but the crowd was confronted by another group when they tried to attack a second church, police said.

One person was killed after being shot by an airgun in the ensuing clashes, national police chief Badrodin Haiti said.

“Violence in the name of anything, especially religion, will only damage pluralism,” Joko said, in a statement on the cabinet website.

He had ordered authorities to “to take prompt action to stop violence, guarantee the safety of every citizen and establish peace and religious harmony,” he said.

The police chief said the attack followed Muslim residents’ complaints about the presence of churches that they said lacked proper permits as places of worship.

Local authorities promised to close the churches but locals were unhappy with negotiations over the issue, he said.

Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that has been allowed to apply Islamic law as part of attempts by the central government to mollify desires for independence.

A peace agreement between Jakarta and the Free Aceh Movement in 2005 ended a long-running separatist insurgency that claimed more than 15,000 lives, mostly civilians.

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