Thu, Feb 19, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Clinton seeks to improve US’ image with Muslims

ENGAGEMENT The US secretary of state, who arrived in Jakarta yesterday, is hoping to revitalize US economic and development ties with countries in Southeast Asia

AP , JAKARTA

Protesters hold a rally against the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outside the Indonesian presidential palace in Jakarta yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is continuing the Obama administration’s efforts to rehabilitate the US’ image abroad, especially with Muslims, during a visit to Indonesia that began yesterday.

The country, once the home of US President Barack Obama, is the second stop in her inaugural overseas trip as the top US diplomat.

The itinerary is intended to symbolize the administration’s commitment to Asia.

In Jakarta, Clinton intends to announce plans to step up US engagement with Southeast Asia in particular, stressing the growing importance of a region that often felt slighted by former US president George W. Bush’s administration.

Her two-day schedule in Indonesia includes a visit to the ASEAN secretariat, the first by a US secretary of state, where she is likely to signal US intent to sign the regional bloc’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, officials said.

Clinton also plans to pledge to attend the group’s annual regional security conference, they said. Former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice skipped the ASEAN regional forum twice during her four years in office, to the dismay of the region.

In addition, Clinton hopes to announce the resumption of Peace Corps operations in Indonesia after an absence of more than 40 years, the officials said. Peace Corps volunteers served in the country between 1963 and 1965 before being expelled by the government.

Development and climate change also will be on the agenda during her meetings with Indonesian leaders, who say they hope to also discuss the Iranian nuclear dispute and the war in Afghanistan.

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Islamic nation, and it has personal ties for Obama, who spent four years of his childhood here.

Among those who turned out at the airport to welcome Clinton were 44 children from his former elementary school, singing ­traditional folk songs and waving Indonesian and US flags.

Indonesia, often held up as a beacon of Islamic democracy and modernity, is a secular nation. Most of its 190 million Muslims practice a moderate form of the faith, but public anger ran high over US policy in the Middle East and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush years, fueling a small but increasingly vocal fundamentalist fringe.

The militant group Jemaah Islamiyah has carried out a series of suicide bombings targeting Western interests in Indonesia since 2002, killing more than 240 people, many of them foreign tourists.

But experts say a crackdown has severely weakened the movement; the last attack occurred more than three years ago.

US officials said Clinton is eager to show Washington’s appreciation for Jakarta’s counterterrorism efforts, particularly in combating Jemaah Islamiyah.

Security was tight for Clinton’s visit, with 2,800 police deployed in Jakarta along with members of the army, local police said. Witnesses saw scattered protests in and around the capital, but no ­arrests or injuries were reported.

Outside the presidential palace in Jakarta, about 40 Muslim students from various universities rallied against Clinton. Some threw shoes at a caricature of Clinton, screaming: “Hillary is terrorist.” Others unfurled banners saying “Chase Hillary away” and “America, destroyer of cultures.”

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