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Tsunami gives Indonesian leader a reprieve from WikiLeaks

Newly leaked US cables accuse Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of spying on his opponents and paying off judges to protect allegedly corrupt allies.

By Correspondent / March 11, 2011



Jakarta, Indonesia

The Indonesian government is scrambling to defend President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s fairly tidy reputation against newly leaked US diplomatic cables that accuse the leader of bribery, intimidation, and influence peddling.

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The incident was overshadowed today by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Japan, giving Mr. Yudhoyono at least an initial reprieve from the accusations. The quake triggered tsunami warnings from Indonesia to Hawaii, and hundreds have already been killed in Japan, leaving the government here struggling to locate some 31,000 nationals living there.

But the accusations could have deep political implications for the president’s image as a reformer and even lead to a shake-up within the country’s already fragile governing coalition.

Some political analysts say Yudhoyono’s squeaky clean image has been overdue for a reality check.

“Like other professional soldiers-turned-reformist-politicians Yudhoyono, has represented a cluster of business and political interests under the guise of broadly conceived reform,” says John Sidel, a professor at the London School of Economics and the author of several books on Indonesia’s political history.

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Yudhoyono’s image as an honest broker and committed reformer – albeit a former general with deep ties to past president Suharto’s strong-arm political establishment – has been highly exaggerated, adds Mr. Sidel.

Spying on opponents, paying off judges

The cables, obtained by WikiLeaks and provided early to Australian newspaper The Age for an article published today, accuse Mr. Yudhoyono of spying on his political opponents and paying off judges to protect allegedly corrupt political allies. They also blame the first lady for trying to profit financially from the family’s political position.

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