US President George W. Bush praised the world's most populous Muslim nation yesterday for its support in the war on terror and said Islamic terrorists defiled one of the great faiths.
Bush, speaking against the backdrop of a palm-fringed beach and turquoise sea, expressed his gratitude after meeting President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Indonesian Muslim leaders critical of US policies on the Middle East.
"We know that Islam is fully compatible with liberty and tolerance and progress because we see the proof in your country and in our own," Bush told a news conference on an island where Muslim militants killed scores in nightclub bomb attacks last year.
"Terrorists who claim Islam as their inspiration defile one of the world's greatest faiths. Murder has no place in any religious tradition. It must find no home in Indonesia," he said.
US officials said Bush wanted to correct what he felt was a misconception that the war on terror was a war against Islam.
Under blanket security, Bush is paying a symbolic and lightning visit to the island where Muslim radicals linked to al-Qaeda killed 202 people when they blew up two nightclubs.
He soon flies to the Australian capital Canberra for talks with key ally Prime Minister John Howard.
Bush paid tribute to the victims of the Bali bombings, the worst act of terror since the Sept. 11, 2001, hijack attacks on the US.
Indonesia took no chances with security, deploying seven warships along with 5,000 heavily armed police and troops backed up by sniffer dogs and bomb squad units.
Bush, on a six-nation Asian tour, said he would propose to Congress a six-year program worth US$157 million to support basic education in Indonesia to aid efforts to build a system that discourages extremism.
While Indonesia's secular government has been allied to the US in its efforts to fight terror, critics have accused it of failing to explain the dangers of radical Islam to its people and to tackle militancy at its roots, especially in a small number of conservative Muslim boarding schools.
Bush hoped his visit would help dampen anti-Americanism in Indonesia. Megawati told the news conference she attached "great importance" to Jakarta's relationship with the US.
But the Muslim clerics had been expected to tell Bush that US policies in the Middle East, seen as favoring Israel, were one of the root causes of terror attacks in Asia.
They were not immediately available for comment.
In Jakarta, Muslim intellectuals and politicians joined 500 people in a peaceful protest against Bush's visit. There were also small protests in the cities of Bandung and Makassar.
Roads near the airport and the Patra Bali hotel where Bush held meetings were closed during the US president's visit, snarling traffic. The airport was shut for the duration of the visit, forcing the rescheduling of 45 flights to Bali.
"It's like having a war here," said bellboy Anak Agung, who works at a resort near the meeting venue.
Bush's praise for Indonesia's role in the war on terror is in marked contrast to the accusations of foot-dragging prior to the Bali blasts. Washington had warned Megawati for months that her country could face deadly attacks.
After the bombings, which killed many locals and tourists from 22 nations, Indonesia cracked down on Islamic militancy, particularly rebels from Southeast Asia's Jemaah Islamiah group, and parliament passed a new anti-terrorism law.
It has arrested 100 militants since the Bali bombings over that attack and others.
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