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Bush faces rising anti-U.S. sentiment in predominantly Muslim Indonesia JAKARTA - A politically weakened U.S. President George W. Bush will face anger over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan when he visits mostly Muslim Indonesia on Monday for talks aimed at broadening ties with a strategic ally in the war on terror. Islamic groups have vowed to disrupt Bush's brief stop in the country, which is also seen in Washington as a key counterbalance to China's emerging economic and military might in Southeast Asia.

Terrorism dominated talks last time Bush visited, just months after the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, but officials from both nations say this time around discussions will be more wide-ranging. Poverty alleviation, education, health, corruption and investment are on the agenda, and Bush will also likely solicit advice from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on the Middle East crisis and the North Korean and Iranian nuclear disputes, they say.

"Focussing on Islamic radicalism appears to be a thing of the past," said Kusnanto Anggoro of the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, adding that the Republican party's stinging election defeat "puts Indonesia in a stronger position this time around." "It opens the opportunity to talk about something else ... including the importance of taking a multilateral approach in engaging with the world."

Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation and has more Muslims than any other in the world, with some 190 million mostly moderate believers. But it is grappling with Islamic extremists and has been hit by a string of al-Qaida-linked terrorist attacks targeting Western interests, including the Bali bombings that killed 202 people. Yudhoyono, the country's first directly elected leader, has worked closely with the Bush administration, sharing intelligence about the regional Jemaah Islamiyah terror network and overseeing the arrest of hundreds of Islamic militants.

Washington rewarded Jakarta last year by lifting an arms embargo imposed in 1999 over human rights concerns — a largely symbolic move that helped restore the young democracy's international credibility. And while Yudhoyono's cash-strapped government has bought only spare military parts from the United States since then, there are a lot of other things it wants from the world super power.

Foreign investors have been slow to return to Indonesia amid lingering legal uncertainties following the 1998 ouster of dictator Suharto. The country's infrastructure is in shambles and education is among the worst in Asia. The sprawling archipelago is also grappling with a bird flu outbreak that has killed 56 people — nearly a third of the world total — and is seen as a potential hotspot for a pandemic that could kill millions globally.

When Yudhoyono holds talks with Bush in Bogor, a hilltop town south of Jakarta, he will have to find a way to balance his desire for continued U.S. support without angering political rivals who already accuse him of being subservient to the West, analysts note. Anti-American sentiment is mounting and Islamic hard-liners and students have staged small but near-daily rallies this month calling Bush a terrorist, burning U.S. flags and setting his effigies alight.

They have vowed to come out in full force during his 10-hour stop, prompting the U.S. embassy to warn its citizens that protests could turn violent. Some 18,000 police are being deployed in Bogor. A handful of lawmakers have also gotten on the bandwagon, interrupting parliament this week asking why Bush was being welcomed to Indonesia. "We should clearly state that President Bush is a war criminal who should not be allowed in Indonesian territory," Fahri Hamzah of the Islamic-based Justice and Prosperity Party told legislators.

Yudhoyono has already indicated that he's prepared to talk tough, saying Thursday that Washington needs to set a timetable for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Hours later, his defense minister vowed to continue to look to Russia for military equipment saying the U.S. could "impose an embargo anytime" — a statement that could be interpreted as either a threat or Jakarta's wariness about getting too cozy with Washington.

Bush, meanwhile, desperate for continued support from Indonesia, will likely have on kit gloves when discussing issues like its ongoing battle with Islamic extremism, its failure to find justice in the poisoning death of the country's top human rights activist, and foot-dragging in fighting bird flu. Asked on which issues Bush intended to press Yudhoyono, a U.S. official in Indonesia bristled. "These are two guys that are going to get together and talk," he said at a background briefing. "The idea that the President is going to press Indonesia on this little thing or that little thing is a total misnomer about the way business is done. People don't understand how diplomacy works."

Related blog entries (category 'Human rights') Related blog entries (category 'Human rights'):
14 November 2006 · U.S. warns of protests during Bush Indonesia visit
08 November 2006 · Indonesia opposition upset over helipad for Bush
07 November 2006 · Indonesian police prepare 18,000 to anticipate anti-Bush rallies
05 November 2006 · Hundreds of hardline Muslims rally against Bush’s planned visit

Posted in Human rights @ 17 November 2006 06:23 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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