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Thursday, January 26, 2023

Obama bids to reach out to Muslims

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President Barack Obama has acknowledged that US relations are still frayed with the Islamic world despite his best efforts at repair, but he urged all sides to look beyond “suspicion and mistrust” to forge common ground against terrorism.

In a key speech in Indonesia during his tour of Asia, Mr Obama insisted: “I have made it clear that America is not and never will be at war with Islam…Those who want to build must not cede ground to terrorists who seek to destroy.”

Mr Obama was forced to slice several hours off his whirlwind 24-hour after Mount Merapi, hundreds of miles east of Jakarta, continued to spew massive clouds of ash and gas high into the air, causing travel chaos as flights were cancelled.

At the University of Indonesia, Mr Obama delivered perhaps the most intensely personal speech of his presidency, speaking phrases in Indonesian to a cheering crowd of young people who claimed him as their own.

“Let me begin with a simple statement: Indonesia is part of me,” he said, making reference to the fact that he spent part of his childhood living in the country.

He praised the world’s most populous Muslim nation for standing its ground against “violent extremism”, and said: “All of us must defeat al Qaida and its affiliates, who have no claim to be leaders of any religion…This is not a task for America alone.”

Seeking to cement relations with fast-growing Asian trading partners, Mr Obama also paid tribute to the economic dynamism of the region at a time of global financial stress.

“America has a stake in Indonesia that is growing, with prosperity that is broadly shared among the Indonesian people – because a rising middle class here means new markets for our goods, just as America is a market for yours,” he said.

The speech came ahead of a meeting of the Group of 20 major economic powers that begins Wednesday evening in Seoul, South Korea, a session expected to be marked by trade tensions between the US and major exporting nations such as China and Germany.

Earlier on Wednesday in Jakarta, Mr Obama visited the Istiqlal Mosque, the largest in south-east Asia and one which the president noted was under construction when he lived in Indonesia as a boy from 1967 to 1971. “Because Indonesia is made up of thousands of islands, hundreds of languages, and people from scores of regions and ethnic groups, my times here helped me appreciate the humanity of all people,” Mr Obama said.

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