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Obama lauds Indonesia for religious tolerance, democratic reform

While visiting his former hometown of Jakarta, Indonesia, President Obama focused his speech Wednesday on development, democracy, and religious tolerance while sprinkling his delivery with cultural references.

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Many of those partnerships resulted from Obama’s call in Cairo last year for a new beginning between the United States and Muslim communities.

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Going deeper

Bilateral talks between Obama and his Indonesian counterpart Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono did go deeper behind closed doors, which is where many believe tough issues, such as human rights, should remain. Other analysts say Obama had fewer deliverables to outline in Indonesian than he did in India, which is why he remained mum on economic cooperation.

The economic linchpin to the president’s trip will come in South Korea, where Obama will meet other regional leaders on the sidelines of the G20. Indonesia will be there as well, cementing its place as the only Southeast Asian nation among the world’s top economies.

Some Indonesians say speech felt artificial

Despite most Indonesians' happiness at having the US president revisit his former hometown, some analysts say Obama's personal reflection and cultural references felt artificial.

“By entertaining us, using Indonesian words, saying he’s part of Indonesia, it sweeps over the more important issues,” says Noor Huda Ismail, a former hard-line Islamist who founded and heads the Jakarta-based Institute for International Peacebuilding. “What tolerance is he talking about? Only the elite will enjoy the benefits of that tolerance.”

Mr. Huda referred specifically to the discrimination facing a minority Islamic group called the Ahmadiyah. In recent months Islamic extremists have attacked their homes and mosques, and the religious affairs minister has called on the group to disband for failing to acknowledge Muhammad as the last prophet, in keeping with the majority Muslim faith.

Obama’s brief nod to the equality achieved across a country that encompasses 17,000 islands also rang hollow for some.

“People say the situation is good for us in Papua, but it’s not,” says Markus Haluk, head of a group pushing for autonomy in Papua, a resource-rich province on the far eastern reaches of Indonesia. “We have no freedom, no liberty, genocide is a fact of life for us.”

IN PICTURES: Obama's Asia trip

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