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Obama to engage Muslims on Indonesian 'homecoming'

US President Barack Obama has praised Indonesia's successful transition to democracy and pledged closer ties with his childhood country ahead of a speech in which he is expected to reach out to the Muslim world.


Watch President Obama's speech to the Muslim world live on FRANCE 24 from 3:50am Paris time (GMT+1)


AFP - President Barack Obama visited Southeast Asia's biggest mosque Wednesday as he prepared to deliver a speech on US-Indonesian relations in a follow-up to last year's appeal to the Muslim world from Cairo.

Obama's speech aims to engage Indonesians in their embrace of democracy and the free market following the fall of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998, as well as following on the themes of religious tolerance of his Cairo address.

The much-anticipated visit to the Istiqlal Mosque and speech at the University of Indonesia were the last stops on Obama's twice-postponed visit to Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country.

Imam Haji Mustapha Ali Yaqub led Obama and First Lady Michelle -- looking elegant in a silky flowing chartreuse pant suit and beige head covering adorned with gold beads -- around the vast, domed structure in central Jakarta.

The Indonesia leg of Obama's Asian tour is expected to be cut short as Obama tries to outrace a cloud of volcanic ash spewing out by Mount Merapi in Central Java, which has severely disrupted air travel across the region.

Obama arrived in Indonesia on Tuesday and told reporters he was "deeply moved" to return to the country of his childhood.

He marvelled at the transformation of the sleepy city of Jakarta he once knew into a bustling metropolis and noted the country's parallel evolution from authoritarianism to democracy and a burgeoning alliance with Washington.

"It's wonderful to be here although I have to tell you that when you visit a place that you spent time in as a child, as the president it's a little disorientating," he said.

"The landscape has changed completely, when I first came here it was in 1967 and people were on becaks ... a bicycle rickshaw thing."

Indonesia was the second stop on Obama's Asia tour, after India, and he will travel on to South Korea for the G20 summit on Wednesday and end his trip in Yokohama, Japan for the APEC summit.

In Jakarta he admitted the task he set in last year's Cairo speech of forging a "new beginning" with Islam remained incomplete and there was "a lot more work to do".

"We don't expect that we are going to completely eliminate some of the misunderstandings and mistrust that have developed over a long period of time, but we do think that we're on the right path," he told reporters at a joint press conference with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Obama said he was "deeply moved" after Indonesia awarded a posthumous medal to honour his late mother Stanley Ann Dunham, who spent years in Indonesia studying microfinance and seeking to empower women.

Security was beefed up for the visit in a country that in recent years has seen a number of deadly terror attacks, with about 8,500 security personnel, including the military, deployed in strategic locations across Jakarta.

US officials said that, as with Obama's trip to India, his visit to Indonesia is designed to reinvigorate relations with an "inspiring" emerging democracy and one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

An embarrassed Obama cancelled two previous attempts to visit Indonesia earlier this year as domestic crises intervened in the US, and his curtailed visit may disappoint his hosts.

Mount Merapi continued to belch debris and ash clouds some 430 kilometres (270 miles) to the east. So far 151 people have died since it began its latest cycle of eruptions on October 26, and more than 300,000 have fled their homes.

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