Indonesians Protest U.S. President's Visit President Bush visits Indonesia, a Muslim nation where many people have greeted his visit with street protests. Bush said the open protests were a sign of a healthy society.
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Indonesians Protest U.S. President's Visit

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Indonesians Protest U.S. President's Visit

Indonesians Protest U.S. President's Visit

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

For the only time in his Asian tour President Bush is visiting a country where demonstrators are on the streets. The country is Indonesia, and some of its residents chanted, quote, we hope Bush dies. That's according to the Reuters news service. Here's the president's response.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: You know, I applaud a society where people are free to come and express their opinion, and it's to Indonesia's credit that it's a society where people are able to protest and say what they think. It's not the first time, by the way, where people have showed up an expressed their opinion about my policies.

INSKEEP: Let's go to NPR's Don Gonyea, who's been traveling with the president. He's in the Indonesian city of Bogor, which is the scene of some of the protests as well as where the country's presidential palace is located. And, Don, has President Bush actually seen any of the protestors?

DON GONYEA: It is doubtful he has seen any of them. Also doubtful he's taken the time to see any coverage of those protests. Obviously, he knows they're going on, because he was asked about it. What he did is he landed here, and because of very real security concerns, you know - the protestors who are making death threats, at least they are while they're out on the street - so the president got into a helicopter, no motorcade, and flew, literally, high above the protests; not literally above them, but just to the presidential palace in that very secure compound.

Now the protests we're seeing here in Bogor, these are relatively small ones. And there are armed police everywhere here. They've really got a tight lid on things. But in 10 cities around Indonesia, across the country, there are much, much larger protests going on. And at the news conference - we just heard that piece of tape of the president - he was asked about all of that, and what he says to Muslims who do think that his policies in Iraq and in the Middle East are anti-Islamic. Here's the president.

President BUSH: I believe in the universality of freedom, and therefore - and I believe people desire to live in free societies. And I believe the vast majority of people want to live in a, you know, want to live in moderation and not have extremists kill innocent people.

INSKEEP: Don Gonyea, you said he's speaking to Muslims here. He's in Indonesia. Explain the basics: Why would you speak to the Islamic world from Indonesia?

GONYEA: The best way to do it is to look at the numbers. This is a country with a population of about 220 million people. Eighty-seven percent of them are Muslim. That makes this the largest country in the world that has a Muslim majority.

I should tell you - the noise in the background - I'm in a pretty busy filing center a ways away from the palace, where the president is now. So hopefully it's not too distracting.

But anyway, this is the largest Muslim democracy in the world. And we've all heard the president say many times - talk about his belief that Islam and Democracy can go hand in hand, that they are not incompatible. He talks about that in his vision of the Iraq of the future. He sees Indonesia as an example of that: a place with religious freedom, a place with a moderate president, a place with democratic elections and this huge majority Muslim population.

INSKEEP: Don, when we talk about another majority Muslim country, Pakistan, it's often asked if Pakistan's government is really on the American side all the time in the war on terror. When it comes to Indonesia's government are there any such suspicions about it?

GONYEA: You don't hear that. The president, Yudhoyono, is seen as a moderate. He has reached out to the United States. He had very good things to say about President Bush in their press conference today. He's in a difficult position given the feelings of the majority in his country toward this president. But again he is seen as someone that Washington can work very closely with.

INSKEEP; And just one other little detail. A mechanical problem apparently with Air Force One took place. What happened?

GONYEA: Yes, flat tires. It landed in Ho Chi Min City yesterday and blew out not two but six of its tires. And they keep a couple of spares, but not six. And there was a while there today they thought the president was going to have to take a smaller backup plane into Indonesia, here. But they got it all squared away. He flew in on the regular plane.

INSKEEP: Opportunity for some to take whatever symbolic meaning they would like from that. That's NPR's Don Gonyea traveling with President Bush, who's winding up his Asian tour with a visit to Indonesia.

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