Crowds greet Saudi king on rare visit to Indonesia

2017-03-01 17:30
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo  greets Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdul Aziz at the Bogor Presidential Palace.

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo greets Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdul Aziz at the Bogor Presidential Palace.

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Bogo — The first Saudi monarch to visit Indonesia in nearly half a century has arrived Wednesday to an elaborate official welcome and crowds of thousands.

King Salman exited his plane at Halim airport in Jakarta using a gold-coloured escalator sent from Saudi Arabia for the visit, with a portable lift carrying him the final meter or so to the ground.

He was met by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and the minority Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, who is fighting a tough election battle after being charged with blaspheming the Quran.

The king was whisked off in a heavily secured convoy to a presidential palace in Bogor, outside of Jakarta, where tens of thousands of people, many of them schoolchildren, lined the route despite torrential rain.

Local media reported that statues of naked men and women at the palace would be covered out of courtesy to the Saudi visitors. The same step was taken when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Indonesiaearlier this year.

Salman is on a tour of Asian countries to drum up business and improve ties. On his first stop in Malaysia, oil giant Saudi Aramco signed a $7bn deal to take a 50 percent stake in a Malaysian oil refinery.

Salman will also visit Brunei, Japan, China and the Maldives, the official Saudi Press Agency has reported.

The government of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has said Salman's entourage and related delegations number about 1500 people. They have booked out four hotels in a posh Jakarta neighborhood for the week.

Salman will spend six of his nine days in Indonesia vacationing on the resort island of Bali, a predominantly Hindu part of the Indonesian archipelago.

Saudi Arabia and Indonesia are expected to sign 10 agreements during Salman's visit in areas from religion to education and science. Indonesia has said it hopes the visit will result in $25bn of new investment.

Indonesia practices a moderate form of Islam and has a democratic secular government, but Saudi-funded institutes in the country are known to spread a highly doctrinaire interpretation of the Quran. They are tolerated in part because Indonesia wants to at least maintain its annual quota of citizens who can enter Saudi Arabia to participate in the hajj to Islam's holiest city.

Aside from a common faith, Saudi Arabia employs hundreds of thousands of Indonesians despite a government ban on sending domestic workers there, following the execution of an Indonesian maid in 2011.

Read more on:    indonesia  |  monarchy

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