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Asia

Indonesia's Yudhoyono visits Berlin

Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has begun a visit to Berlin amid German praise for his nation's steps toward democracy. A rights group says his government should do more to protect religious minorities.

President Yudhoyono was welcomed in Berlin with military honors by German President Joachim Gauck who said Indonesia had begun to exemplify the motto of "unity in diversity" since its overthrow of dictatorship 15 years ago.

The world's largest Muslim-majority nation could send "important signals" to Arab countries, Gauck said. Indonesia and Germany as economically significant G-20 nations bore special responsibility, including the need to safeguard natural resources, the president added.

On Tuesday evening, Yudhoyono and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are due to open Berlin's annual ITB international tourism industry convention. Indonesia is this year's partner nation at the ITB.

Merkel visited Indonesia in July last year and signed the "Jakarta Declaration" to broaden bilateral ties which include post-secondary education in Germany for Indonesian students. Germany provided aid after the 2004 Aceh earthquake and helped establish a tsunami early warning system inaugurated in 2011.

HRW criticizes treatment of minorities

Yudhoyono's arrival in Berlin was preceded by criticism of his government's handling of minorities by the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Last Thursday, HRW issued a 107-page report which accused Yudhoyono's nominally secular government of responding "weakly to growing intolerance" by Islamist extremists against minorities in Indonesia - contrary to the southeast Asian nation's image as being a promoter of moderate Islam.

The majority of Indonesia's 240 million people are Sunni. The HRW report cited harassment of Shia Muslims, the Islamic sect Ahmadiyah, Buddhists and Christians.

"Religious intolerance and related violence is rising in Indonesia, " said HRW Asia Deputy Director Phelim Kine.

He said Yudhoyono's administration should adopt "a zero tolerance approach, to prosecute the perpetrator, assist the victim and make clear that the government won't accept this type of abuse," Kine said.

Yudhoyono's government replied by saying that religious harmony remained strong in Indonesia and that it was unfair to generalize. The Religious Affairs Ministry said some disputes over the closure or building of places of worship were instead motivated by social, economic and even family issues.

Trading partners

German-Indonesian trade, which dipped in 2009 during the world economic crisis has resurged in recent years to be worth nearly seven billion euros ($9.1 billion). After China and Japan, the EU ranks as Indonesia's third largest trading partner.

Ahead of elections due in 2014, Yuhyohono's ruling Democratic Party has been undermined by a series of corruption allegations. The president, who was re-elected in 2009 to a second term, is barred from running for a third term and no obvious successor candidate has emerged.

Last month,  Anas Urbaningrum quit his post as party chairman after being named by an anti-graft body as a suspect in a scandal over the construction of a sports stadium near Jakarta.

ipj/pfd (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)