Bush visits Bali amid fears of terrorism
BALI, Indonesia (AP) - U.S. President George W. Bush visited the front lines of the war against terrorism Wednesday, stopping on this bomb-scarred island to support Indonesia's struggle against al-Qaida-linked groups.
Security officials were nervous about Bush's safety.
At least 5,000 police and army troops were deployed for Bush's visit, which was limited to just three hours because of security concerns.
Bush and first lady Laura Bush waved and smiled as they stepped off Air Force One into bright sunshine.
The president's armored limousine waited for him about six meters (20 feet) away.
Bush met with President Megawati Sikarnoputri, an ally against terrorism, in an air-conditioned, thatched roof villa inside an oceanfront resort.
The president planned to announce a US$150 million grant for Indonesia to help improve education and counter the anti-American message in many classrooms.
Warships patrolled the seas, military forces in high-speed rubber rafts traced his arrival path and armored vehicles were stationed at the airport, which was closed to commercial flights during Bush's visit.
A year ago, militants belonging to the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah group blew up two Bali nightclubs, killing 202 people, mostly foreign tourists, in the largest terror attack since Sept. 11, 2001.
On Monday, Indonesia's security minister warned that a fresh attack was imminent.
Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, is considered a key home base for terror groups, with about 2,000 of Jemaah Islamiyah's estimated 3,000 members believed to be there.
Bush's visit to Bali was intended as a gesture of support - both symbolic and financial - for Megawati's efforts to battle terrorism and curb the influence of radical, anti-Western Muslims.
He was meeting with moderate Muslim religious leaders to address criticism of U.S. policy in the Mideast.
Going into the meeting, some of the leaders were critical of Bush.
Syaf'i Ma'arif, chairman of Indonesia's second-largest Muslim group, said recently that Bush's foreign policy hurts Muslims around the world, and that radicalism was on the rise because "many Muslims see the invasion of Iraq as another example of American's neo-imperialism.''
The Bush administration says Megawati has taken effective steps against terrorism, particularly since the Bali bombings.
About 100 Jemaah Islamiyah members have been arrested and 29 people connected with the Bali bombings have been convicted.
However, Jemaah Islamiyah has been able to regroup, appointing dozens of people to carry out new attacks on Western targets in Asia between December and April, a senior Indonesian intelligence adviser told The Associated Press.
The organization also has filled the leadership vacuum created by the arrest of Riduan Isamuddin Hambali, a key figure in the Bali bombing and Osama bin Laden's alleged point man in Asia, with a new operations chief and top bomb makers, intelligence officials said.
Bush came here from Singapore, another visit intended to reward an ally for anti-terror efforts.
Singapore has arrested more than 30 suspected Islamic militants since 2001 on suspicion of plotting to blow up the U.S. Embassy and other Western targets.
Bush also thanked Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for Singapore's help in Iraq's reconstruction, including training for the Iraqi police.
Singapore's government said Wednesday it will send ships and planes to Iraq, its first military contribution to the U.S.-led coalition forces there.
The country's exact commitment will be announced Monday.
Bush flew to Singapore from a 21-nation summit in Bangkok, Thailand, where regional leaders pledged to crack down on terror groups but did not explicitly endorse a new U.S.-led diplomatic initiative to end a yearlong nuclear standoff with North Korea.
However, the Pacific Rim leaders supported the resumption of six-country negotiations to resolve the North Korean crisis.
The United States is giving Indonesia US$25 million for security services, including US$12 million for police training in counterterrorism efforts.
Washington also is supporting Indonesia's moves toward democracy, sending about US$24 million to support elections next year.
Bush was also eager to correct what the administration says has been a mischaracterization of U.S. policy.
Anti-American sentiment is rampant in Indonesia - with a huge decrease in recent years in those with favorable views of the United States, as many are furious over the U.S.-led war in Iraq and U.S. policy in the Middle East.
While Megawati is viewed as an ally in the war against terror, she told the United Nations last month that the war created problems that it was supposed to solve. - AP