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Archive for Monday, November 20, 2006

After Vietnam success, Indonesia unwelcoming

November 20, 2006

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— President Bush paid tribute to new symbols of capitalism in this struggling communist country today and offered encouragement for Vietnam's battle against bird flu and other public health challenges.

The president was quickly touring this city, once known as Saigon, before flying to Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, where thousands angrily protested America's policy in the Middle East and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House said it was confident about security precautions for Bush's visit despite police warnings of an increased threat of attack by al-Qaida-linked groups.

The president was to spend just six hours in Indonesia, most of it at Bogor Palace, a presidential retreat outside the capital of Jakarta and far from the scene of protests where Bush was denounced as a "war criminal" and "terrorist."

While President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is a close U.S. ally in the war on terror, Bush is highly unpopular in Indonesia, where security forces were probing unconfirmed reports that a suicide bomber was planning to attack during Bush's visit today.

In Ho Chi Minh City, Bush visited the Vietnam stock exchange, where trading began in 2000 and expanded to Hanoi last year. The exchange initially listed two companies and two bonds. Now, there is trading in 56 stocks and funds on the combined exchanges with total capitalization of $3.5 billion.

Members of an Indonesian Muslim group prepare signs for a protest against a visit by U.S. President George W. Bush today in Bogor, Indonesia. Muslim and student groups have said they will attempt to disrupt the meeting between Bush and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Members of an Indonesian Muslim group prepare signs for a protest against a visit by U.S. President George W. Bush today in Bogor, Indonesia. Muslim and student groups have said they will attempt to disrupt the meeting between Bush and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The president, wielding a red-handled mallet, struck a gong to open the day's trading. Bush hit it three times, shook hands with traders on the floor and met with a group of American and Vietnamese business leaders.

"I am very interested in hearing what the opportunities are like and the obstacles you face," the president told them. "Perhaps the United States can help foster the market economy that is growing here."

Last year, Vietnam's economy grew by a robust 8.4 percent.

In a city usually teeming with motorcycle traffic, streets were cleared for Bush's motorcade. As he rode by, people waved, laughed and cheered. It was a contrast to the subdued reaction of residents in Hanoi, where Bush conferred with the leaders of China, Russia, South Korea and Japan at the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

The White House supported the summit's closing statement prodding North Korea to return to nuclear disarmament talks and urging nations to keep the pressure on by enforcing U.N. Security Council sanctions.

But the administration was initially at a loss to explain why the statement was simply read as part of the chairman's wrap-up statement, and not issued as a written document. Another oddity was that the section about North Vietnam was not translated into English when the statement was read.

U.S. officials later said that the reason the North Korea statement was delivered orally, rather than written, was because China did not want to sign a document with Taiwan. Beijing regards Taiwan as a breakaway colony and did not want to put it on equal footing, the U.S. officials said.

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