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Indonesia eagerly awaits Obama’s brief homecoming


Jakarta: Indonesians were eagerly awaiting the arrival Tuesday of US President Barack Obama for a 24-hour visit to a country where he spent part of his childhood.

Many Indonesians fondly call Obama “Anak Menteng”, or “Menteng Kid”, after a Jakarta neighbourhood where he lived from 1967 to 1971 after his mother married an Indonesian.

A group calling itself Friends of Obama was throwing a “homecoming” party Tuesday to welcome the return of Obama, once known among his childhood friends in Jakarta as Barry.

“We want to wish him ‘Selamat Datang’ (welcome) to Indonesia,” said Friends of Obama chairman Ron Mullers, an Indonesian-born American.

The party is to be attended by Obama’s elementary schoolmates and feature dancing and singing as well as an Indonesian-American buffet, he said.

A replica of a statue of Obama as a 10-year-old would be on display at the event. The original is located at Obama’s former elementary school in Menteng.

Obama has twice cancelled trips to Indonesia this year because of domestic preoccupations, and many Indonesians were wondering whether he would make it this time.

“We are hopeful and worried at the same time,” Hasimah, the school’s principal, was quoted as saying by the Antara news agency.

“We were very enthusiastic to welcome Obama, and his cancellations deeply disappointed us,” said Hasimah, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

During his brief visit, Obama is scheduled Wednesday to visit Indonesia’s biggest mosque, Istiqlal, and deliver a speech at the University of Indonesia.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said Obama’s visit would mark the launch of a comprehensive partnership between Indonesia and the US.

“As you know, the US has a desire to deepen and expand cooperation with Indonesia as an equal partner, cooperation which is forward-looking in nature,” Natalegawa said.

Natalegawa said he and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton agreed during a meeting in September to form a joint ministerial commission under which the top diplomats of both countries would meet regularly for talks.

Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said his ministry was seeking wide-ranging defence cooperation with the US, including training of officers and military financing.

“It is being done gradually, and the arrangements are being formulated,” he said.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates announced in July during a visit to Jakarta that the US was lifting a decade-old ban on cooperation with the Indonesian army’s Kopassus special forces.

The ban was put in place over alleged human rights abuses by the unit.