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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.

President Obama delivered the keynote speech on Wednesday during his visit to the University of Indonesia, in Jakarta. He lauded the world's most populous Muslim nation for its religious tolerance and democratic reform.

Barbara Walton/AP

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President Obama woke early on Wednesday to a clear Jakarta sky and hundreds of onlookers straining to get a glimpse or a photo of the man some consider an adopted son. Traffic backed up for miles around him, as commuters waited for Mr. Obama to make his first stop of the day at the expansive, white-domed Istiqlal Mosque, one of Southeast Asia’s largest.

The mosque, whose name means independence, sits next to a Catholic church, a symbol of the diversity and religious pluralism Muslim-majority Indonesia seeks to promote. The country’s national motto, “unity in diversity,” is the foundation of its example to the world, said Obama, speaking before a crowd of nearly 6,500 at Jakarta’s University of Indonesia.

Rather than label Indonesia a Muslim-majority democracy, as some analysts feared, Obama focused his speech on development, democracy, and religious tolerance. And to show his connection with his former hometown, he sprinkled his delivery with cultural references.

IN PICTURES: Obama's Asia trip

He also used the speech as another opportunity build bridges with the Muslim world.

“He reminded his audience of the importance of the cultural approach in strengthening the relationship between the US and Muslim world,” says Aleksius Jemadu, a professor of international politics at Universitas Pelita Harapan. “So it’s clear there is a shift in the foreign policy of the US from security to a more personal approach.”

Only briefly did Obama draw a connection between US involvement abroad and his administration’s efforts to improve the economy at home.

“America has a stake in an Indonesia that is growing,” he said, one that is “shaping the global economy.” But more importantly, “America has a stake in the success of the Indonesian people.”


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