Jakarta: Jakarta`s Christian governor was formally named a suspect in a blasphemy investigation Wednesday, after allegations that he insulted Islam sparked a violent mass protest by Muslim hardliners in the Indonesian capital.
After a lengthy preliminary probe, police said that the allegations against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is also a member of Indonesia`s ethnic Chinese minority, should go to trial and ordered him not to leave the country.
The case is being viewed as a test of religious tolerance in the world`s most populous Muslim-majority country, where a spike in attacks on minorities has eroded a reputation for pluralism, and analysts said the decision was a "setback".
Religious groups had demanded that Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, be prosecuted for allegedly insulting the Koran while campaigning in elections for the Jakarta governorship.
The governor -- who is favourite to win the polls -- had accused his opponents of using a Koranic verse, which suggests Muslims should not choose non-Muslims as leaders, in order to trick people into voting against him.
The blasphemy allegations sparked much anger among Muslims -- both moderate and hardline -- and more than 100,000 protesters took to the streets in Jakarta on November 4 demanding that Purnama be prosecuted, with the protest turning violent.
After a weeks-long investigation that involved questioning scores of witnesses, national police chief detective Ari Dono told reporters: "Basuki Tjahaja Purnama has been named a suspect."
National police chief Tito Karnavian conceded there were "sharply dissenting opinions" and the decision was not unanimous.
However investigators eventually agreed a crime had been committed and the case should go to trial, he said.
Naming someone a suspect is a formal step in the Indonesian legal system that means authorities believe they have enough preliminary evidence to consider filing charges against someone.
Commenting after the decision, Purnama pledged not to pull out of the Jakarta election in February, telling reporters: "This is not the end, there will be a court process which we hope will be open.
"We will still take part in the election -- our supporters who back us come should still come to polling booths to help us win." Observers expressed surprise at the decision -- police had been widely expected not to pursue the case as the evidence was viewed as weak -- and said it could be a compromise aimed at avoiding further violent protests.
A decision to drop the case would likely have sparked anger from hardline groups, who were already planning another mass rally later this month.
"This is a calculated move by the government and police," Tobias Basuki, a political analyst from Jakarta-based think tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
However he added the decision marked a "huge setback for Indonesia".
The protest earlier this month, which was the biggest in recent years in Indonesia, was peaceful during the day but as night fell descended into chaos, with protesters torching police cars and hurling rocks in the heart of Jakarta.
Scores of police officers were injured and one man died in the clashes close to the presidential palace.
Purnama has apologised for his remarks made in September, saying 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.
He faces a tough fight to win the Jakarta governor poll -- he is running against the son of an ex-president and a former cabinet minister -- and his rivals have been accused of seizing on his comments to whip up popular anger.
The governor won huge popularity with his no-nonsense style and determination to clean up Jakarta, a crowded, polluted metropolis of 10 million notorious for its monster traffic jams.
But his once enormous poll lead has dwindled to a few percentage points since the blasphemy scandal broke.