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Asia-Africa leaders pay nostalgic Indonesian visit BANDUNG - Leaders of nations from South Africa to North Korea came to this former Dutch colonial hill station on Sunday to honor political pioneers who set the stage for the Non-Aligned Movement 50 years ago. Arriving from Jakarta in a fleet of jetliners, leaders and representatives of some 100 countries retraced the steps taken by the heads of 29 Asian and African governments who met here in 1955 to seek a path apart from the Soviet and U.S. sides of the Cold War divide.

Under a sky flecked with large white clouds the leaders walked the short distance from a hotel to the colonial-style white and gold Gedung Merdeka (Freedom Building) where the 1955 Asian-African summit discussions took place. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, flanked by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and China President Hu Jintao led the group, most wearing dark business suits but a few in brightly colored African robes or flowing Arab dress.
A cheerful Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, smiling, waving and garlanded with flowers, was in the back of the pack. Some apparent latecomers, such as U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, straggled well behind the main group. Inside the Gedung Merdeka's hall, draped with flags of the participating nations, Yudhoyono and other political successors of the original leaders delivered short speeches. "Here, they carried out a truly heroic deed," Yudhoyono said of the 1955 participants, who included Indonesian founding President Sukarno.
"Through them spoke the hundreds of millions who populated Asia and Africa, and who had, until then, languished in silence." The 1955 summit was the first major one of what would come to be called the Third World. Historians say it led to the organization of a formal global Non-Aligned Movement in 1961.

Rekindling the old spirit

The Bandung celebration came on the heels of an Asia-Africa summit in Jakarta, a two-day conference intended to rekindle the sprit of the original. The Jakarta meeting's declaration got a final blessing from the leaders inside the Gedung Merdeka. Most citizens were kept several blocks away amid tight security that included SWAT members with automatic weapons, black-clad traditional Javanese martial arts practitioners, and security personnel on rubber boats patrolling the Cikapundung River that runs through the city.
Outside the protected area around 50 school children marching band members in blue and silver uniforms were ready to perform in case any leaders passed their way. "I want to see presidents from other countries," said one. At a mosque several hundred meters from the venue, Kusnadi, a middle-aged man, said: "I've been sitting here since 7 a.m. I want to participate in the event. When do you think there'd be another chance?"

While he was not alone in grumbling, others were more cheerful. "I feel so proud today as an Indonesian," said Sumpena, a 42-year-old teacher. "I'm here to witness this historic moment." More than 100 people cheered and waved flags from various countries later when delegation members entered the governor's palace in a different part of the city center for a lunch, the last event of the day. The Jakarta summit's formal sessions had ended on Saturday. Its declaration outlines steps to increase Asian-African trade, economic and cultural links.

Africa may benefit

Africa may benefit the most from the fresh effort to forge links between the two continents. Asia has four times Africa's population, but its GDP is roughly 14 times Africa's. Bandung, set in a valley surrounded by mountains, including active volcanoes, has shared in some of that Asian prosperity. Despite the small city, colonial-style look of the central district, it now sprawls across a wide area and has a population of around 3 million.
If Bandung has changed since 1955, so has the political landscape of Africa and Asia. Colonies have become countries, the bipolar power structure that competed for their favor no longer exists, and many of the nations, old and new, have shifted from a penchant for collectivism to a preference for some degree of capitalism. But if circumstances and approaches have changed, some participants in the latest summit said the attitude hasn't.
Said Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, one of the Gedung Merdeka speakers: "The declaration emanating from (the Jakarta meeting) clearly indicated that the spirit of Bandung not only is alive, but alive and kicking.



Posted in Politics @ 24 April 2005 00:01 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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