Wednesday 20 November 2019

Mike Pence praises Indonesia's tolerant values on visit to Jakarta mosque

US vice-president Mike Pence, second left, talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo (AP/Dita Alangkara)
US vice-president Mike Pence, second left, talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo (AP/Dita Alangkara)

US vice-president Mike Pence has praised Indonesia's democracy and moderate form of Islam as he spoke alongside the leader of the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Mr Pence's comments had significance for Indonesian president Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who a day earlier suffered a serious political setback when a political ally was defeated by Islamic conservatives in the election for Jakarta governor.

The divisive campaign undermined the image of Indonesia abroad as a generally tolerant Muslim nation.

Indonesia is the latest stop on an Asian tour by Mr Pence that aims to reaffirm traditional US alliances at a time when Donald Trump's presidency has raised questions about the strength of America's commitment to the region.

Mr Pence said at a joint news conference with Mr Jokowi that the US wants to strengthen its strategic partnership with Indonesia.

He praised Indonesia for its moderate form of Islam and said the two countries would continue to co-operate on combating terrorism.

"As the second and third-largest democracies in the world, our two countries share many common values including freedom, the rule of law, human rights and religious diversity," Mr Pence said.

"The United States is proud to partner with Indonesia. It promotes and protects these values.

"Indonesia's tradition of moderate Islam frankly is an inspiration to the world and we commend you and your people. In your nation as in mine, religion unifies, it doesn't divide."

Mr Pence's first engagement in Indonesia was morning tea with Mr Jokowi at the presidential palace. He and his family later visited the Istiqlal Mosque, the largest in south-east Asia.

The Pences removed their shoes at the entrance and his wife Karen and two daughters covered their heads with scarves. They walked inside the large prayer hall, observing the soaring dome, and also stopped at an open terrace in the mosque.

Mr Pence later sat with several faith leaders in a conference room where a speaker gave him an overview of the mosque's history. The mosque, which can accommodate up to 200,000 people, was designed by a protestant and sits near a catholic cathedral in central Jakarta.

The message and images sought to address questions in the Muslim world about Mr Trump after his push for travel bans that would temporarily suspend visas from six predominantly-Muslim countries and halt the US refugee programme. Two judges have blocked the ban, prompting the Trump administration to appeal.

Mr Trump's executive order does not include Indonesia, but the country is home to nearly 14,000 refugees seeking resettlement in third countries and activists have said the ban would affect their ability of entering the U.S.


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