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Tuesday, 18 September, 2001, 09:55 GMT 10:55 UK
Megawati flies to meet Bush
President Megawati
President Megawati leads the world's most populous Muslim nation
By BBC Jakarta correspondent Richard Galpin

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri is at the start of a week-long visit to the United States, which will include talks with President George W Bush.

Megawati is the first leader of a Muslim nation to arrive in the American capital following the devastating terrorist attacks last week.

Laskar Jihad members
Laskar Jihad movement in the Moluccas claims to have been helped by Bin Laden
The attacks have been blamed on Islamic extremists linked to Osama Bin Laden.

There has been some surprise this visit has gone ahead at all. It had been widely assumed the American administration would not be ready to receive foreign heads of state at such a difficult time.

But it is likely President Bush will look to Megawati for support as he plans his response to the terrorist attacks last week in which it is feared 5,000 people were killed.

Quest for allies

The Indonesian president is the leader of the world's largest Muslim country.

America needs to have as many moderate Muslim nations on its side if it does launch military attacks on Afghanistan, where Osama Bin Laden is based. Indonesia has long been viewed by the international community as a model of tolerant Islam.

But in recent years that image has been tarnished by the growth of a number of radical Muslim groups.

Moluccas map
The most prominent, Laskar Jihad, has been directly involved in the conflict between the Christian and Muslim communities in the Moluccan Islands, in which thousands of people have been killed.

Its leader, Jaffar Umar Thalib, claims to have received training in Afghanistan.

In a statement following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, he described those responsible as brave, heroic young men angered by American arrogance. He said the United States should learn its lesson.

President Bush will no doubt be seeking assurances from Megawati when they meet on Wednesday that she can control such extremist groups.

See also:

17 Sep 01 | Americas
Bush seeks Muslim support
11 Sep 01 | South Asia
Who is Osama Bin Laden?
20 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Who are the Laskar Jihad?
23 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Megawati Sukarnoputri
14 Sep 01 | Americas
Islam: Faith under fire
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