Widodo's tough stance tests uneasy relationship with Australia

Widodo's tough stance tests uneasy relationship with Australia
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

MELBOURNE, Australia - The often-turbulent diplomatic relationship between Australia and Indonesia is being seriously tested after Jakarta executed two Australian drug traffickers early Wednesday.

Repeated pleas for clemency from Prime Minister Tony Abbott's conservative government in Canberra were not enough to save Australians Andrew Chan, 31, and Myuran Sukumaran, 34, from facing a firing squad with five other foreign nationals and an Indonesian on the island of Nusakambangan. A ninth prisoner, a woman from the Philippines, was granted an 11th-hour reprieve. It was the second time since President Joko Widodo took office last October that Indonesia has executed foreign drug traffickers.

Australia's reaction has been restrained but swift: Abbott recalled his country's ambassador to Indonesia almost immediately, saying it was certainly not "business as usual" between the two countries, which are neighbours and fellow members of the Group of 20 largest economies.

"These executions are both cruel and unnecessary," Abbott said. "I want to stress that this is a very important relationship between Australia and Indonesia, but it has suffered as a result of what's been done over the last few hours. It is very unusual, indeed unprecedented, for an ambassador to be withdrawn [for this reason], so I don't want to minimise the gravity of what we've done."

Chan and Sukumaran were ringleaders of a group of Australian traffickers dubbed "the Bali Nine." They were arrested in 2005 for preparing to transport heroin worth about $3 million from the Indonesian holiday resort island of Bali to Australia.

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