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Indonesia clerics to tell Bush his policies aid terror
( 2003-10-21 22:20) (Reuters)

When President George W. Bush meets Indonesia's leading Muslim clerics on Wednesday they will tell him US policies in the Middle East, seen as favouring Israel, are one of the root causes of terror attacks in Asia.

But clerics in the world's most populous Muslim nation don't expect the leader of the globe's sole superpower to listen.

"I will tell it like it is. In Indonesia, the majority are not happy with the US stance in the Middle East conflict," Hasyim Muzadi, leader of the country's largest Muslim group, the 40-million-strong Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), told Reuters on Tuesday.

"But I will not pretend that the president will listen to me. I mean, who am I anyway? Just a representative of some group, when even the UN is being ignored," he said by telephone from Surabaya, the capital of East Java.

Bush's four-hour visit comes at a time when anti-American sentiment in Indonesia is at its highest in decades over the US-led invasion of Iraq and Washington's support for Israel, academics say.

About 250 students rallied outside the heavily fortified American embassy in Jakarta on Tuesday afternoon chanting "Bush is a terrorist", and throwing tomatoes at the complex.

More than 100 extra unarmed police could be seen lined up outside the embassy, which is permanently fronted with huge coils of barbed wire and secured by armed officers.

Bush's visit to the resort island of Bali comes slightly more than a year after Muslim militants blew up two nightclubs there, packed with foreign tourists. The attack killed 202 people and put the spotlight on Indonesia's militant Islamic fringe.

Washington's policies in the Middle East were unjust and had become a contributor to terror, said Syafii Maarif, head of Muhammadiyah, the second-largest Muslim group in Indonesia, speaking by telephone from Bali.

"The foreign policy of the United States is very pro-Israel... The sufferings of the Palestinians are growing more acute by the day and desperation or disappointment can lead to irrational actions," Maarif said.

NU and Muhammadiyah run an extensive network of religious boarding schools and charitable institutions across the vast Indonesian archipelago.


Bush is set to meet several moderate clerics as well as President Megawati Sukarnoputri during his stopover in Bali, a mostly Hindu island about 1,000 km (600 miles) east of Jakarta.

Indonesia's secular government has been an ally of the United states in its efforts to battle militants, but critics have accused it of failing properly to explain the dangers of radical Islam to its 210 million people.

"As for the terrorism issue, we will tell the US that we are all in the same boat. We are here to fight terrorism because terrorism, whoever does it, is against civilisation," said Maarif, who once called Bush a "madman" for launching military operations in Iraq.

Maarif's largely moderate Muhammadiyah claims a membership of around 30 million, including some key government figures.

Although most Indonesian Muslims adhere to moderate teachings, militant elements have a high public profile and rarely draw much criticism from the government or their moderate counterparts for their inflammatory views.

A senior US official travelling with Bush on Tuesday said the president in meeting with the clerics in Bali was seeking to show support for moderate Muslims.

"These religious (leaders) are at the forefront of keeping it a moderate... So that should be a good exchange," the official said, adding that Bush was looking forward to a frank discussion.

In a newspaper interview last week, Bush said Indonesia needed to ensure that the country would not be run by a small group of "hate-filled" people.

"Bush has to act fairly and objectively to Indonesia, Palestine and other Muslim countries," Azyumardi Azra, who as rector of an Islamic university will also meet Bush, told state news agency Antara.

"We should not be hopeless and say the meeting would be useless. It is our good opportunity to convey our aspirations to Bush because our refusal to meet with him could bring about another problem," he said.

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