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Bush gets a dose of democracy

Times Staff Writer

In the last overseas stop of his five-day Asian tour, President Bush met here Monday with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the first directly elected president of the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population.

The visit came after a week of demonstrations against Bush, and its brief length, 6 1/2 hours, reflected security concerns in a country where terrorists have staged large-scale and deadly attacks.

About 2,000 protesters from Muslim, student, and labor groups showed up to protest U.S. policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying it was Bush who was spreading terror. In Surabaya, East Java, about 100 students were reported to have clashed with police at a McDonald’s after staging a protest at the U.S. Consulate. No arrests were reported.

Bush cited the demonstrations as evidence of Indonesia’s democracy, saying, “It’s not the first time, by the way, where people have showed up and expressed their opinion about my policies.”

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Indonesia, where Islam is firmly rooted and democracy is still emerging, is a religious and political laboratory for the policies Bush says are the answer to Islamic-based terrorist movements. The president put Indonesia on his agenda for a trip, which began Thursday in Singapore and then went to Vietnam for an economic meeting of Pacific Rim leaders, to support Yudhoyono “as a moderate and progressive leader,” said Derek Mitchell, a Pentagon official during the Clinton administration.

Indonesia had not done as much as Bush might have wanted to impose the rule of law, but there was “a sense that this is moving in the right direction,” said Mitchell, who specializes in Asia and is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

Nearly 90% of Indonesia’s 238 million people are Muslims. That amounts to approximately one-sixth of the Muslim world. After four decades of authoritarian rule, the nation’s first democratic elections were held seven years ago; Yudhoyono was elected in 2004.

“The elections were open, the elections were clean, the elections were fair. And you elected a good president who is working hard to -- in a tough job,” said Bush of Yudhoyono at the news conference in one of the nation’s six presidential palaces.

Indonesia is an equatorial archipelago made up of more than 17,000 islands, 6,000 of them inhabited, covering an area roughly three times that of Texas. It has a long history of ethnic strife along with the more recent onset of Islamic terrorism.

It is a base of the terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiah and has increasingly cooperated with the U.S. in counter-terrorism efforts, particularly in the wake of bombings in 2002 and 2003. The targets have included a nightclub frequented by tourists in Bali and a Marriott hotel in Jakarta.

The president flew by helicopter to Bogor from the Halim Perdanakusuma International Airport air base near Jakarta, 35 miles to the north, rather than traveling by motorcade.

The flight took him over the crowded capital’s outer reaches, above roofs of crinkled metal and others of tile atop small, squat homes and trash heaps spilling out of backyards under lush, tropical growth.

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He landed near the grounds of the 150-year-old Greek Revival-style palace, which is generally used for ceremonial purposes and other government functions.

Its 70 acres of lawns and giant ficus trees, behind high walls and in some locations rolls of new razor wire, harbor a herd of 600 white-spotted miniature deer, descendants of animals brought here from India several centuries ago for the hunting pleasure of a Dutch governor-general.

Bush made the short trip from the Marine One helicopter landing zone to the palace in an armored Chevrolet Suburban that bore neither the U.S. or Indonesian flags nor the presidential seal.

As he hopped with both feet from the high-riding vehicle, his image on a television screen prompted boos -- and a few calls of “terrorist” -- from some of the Indonesian reporters awaiting the news conference.

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After dinner with Yudhoyono, Bush set out for Hawaii. He is scheduled to return to Washington tonight.

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james.gerstenzang@latimes.com

Times staff writer Dinda Jouhana contributed to this report.

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