US President George W. Bush's unpopularity in the world's most populous Muslim nation made security jitters and angry protests the hallmarks of yesterday's six-hour trip to court Indonesian favor.
Through sheets of sometimes heavy rain, Bush flew by helicopter from the capital of Jakarta to this lush hilltop suburb for talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Bush, and his wife, Laura, smiled as they strolled up the red-carpeted steps of Bogor Palace, a graceful presidential retreat on vast grounds, signing a guest book and heading inside for the day's events.
"I admire Indonesia's pluralism and its diversity," Bush said, opening a discussion with moderate civic leaders. "It's very important for the people of America to understand that this vast country has got tremendous potential, but it's got a prominent role to play in the world in showing how it's possible for people to be able to live together in peace and harmony."
From the Bush-Yudhoyono meeting and joint press availability to round-table discussions and a state dinner, Bush was not interacting with the general populace or doing anything outside the palace confines.
Braced for the local reaction to the visit, thousands of police and rifle-toting soldiers patrolled Bogor's streets, jammed mobile phone signals and deployed water cannons.
Demonstrations by Islamic hardliners, students, housewives and taxi drivers alike have been staged every day this month. Thousands more marched yesterday, carrying posters showing victims of violence in Iraq.
Anti-Bush protesters tried to seal off US-owned restaurants in two Indonesian cities, witnesses said, and demonstrations were held in at least 10 cities.
For Bush, the risks of the trip appear to be worth it to bolster Yudhoyono's anti-terror cooperation, celebrate the country's democratic advances and try to dent anti-US sentiment.
With many Muslims around the world regarding his foreign policies as an affront to their faith, Bush also was eager to be seen soliciting Yudhoyono's advice about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the North Korean and Iranian nuclear standoffs and other world affairs.
Bush was expected to highlight America's quick dispatch of aid after the December 2004 tsunami that left 131,000 dead, 37,000 missing and 570,000 homeless in Indonesia alone -- and after a devastating earthquake in Pakistan in October last year.
He often speaks of both efforts as proof that the US can be a compassionate friend to Muslim nations.