British prime minister visits Indonesia - 29 March, 2006 - News

Islamic protesters angry at Britain's role in the occupation of Iraq demonstrated in Indonesia's capital Wednesday ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Tony Blair aimed at strengthening ties with the mostly moderate Muslim-majority nation.

About 80 demonstrators shouted "Go to hell Blair!" outside the heavily fortified British Embassy and accused Blair of "wanting to deepen Western imperialism against Muslims" by coming to Indonesia.

Blair's trip is the first by a British prime minister to Indonesia in more than two decades, showing the country's renewed importance for Western nations seeking to build alliances with moderate Muslims.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and prominent Muslim leaders were to meet with Blair on Thursday "to give the British leader a deeper understanding of Islam in Indonesia and to find a solution for how to manage relations between Islam and the West," presidential spokesman Dino Pati Djalal said.

Blair is also scheduled to visit an Islamic boarding school and meet officials helping Aceh province rebuild from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Indonesia has a long tradition of moderation and secular rule, but is fighting al-Qaida-linked militants blamed for a series of bombings in recent years, including two attacks on the resort island of Bali.

Wednesday's demonstration was called by a hardline group that campaigns for an Islamic state in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Most of the sprawling country's 220 million people are desperately poor, and the government is eager to attract foreign investment. But its leaders have to be careful not to alienate domestic Muslim opinion by being seen as too close to European nations and the United States, reports the AP.


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