INDONESIA - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has rebutted critics at home who said his apology on Monday night to Singapore and Malaysia over the haze was excessive.
"The fact is the haze was from Indonesia, so we take responsibility, and saying sorry in that context, to me, is not excessive," he told reporters on Wednesday.
"At the same time, I said that what was happening was not intentional, and Indonesia had no intention to trouble its neighbours."
His unexpected apology had attracted, in the past 48 hours, criticism from various quarters. The Muslim-leaning Republika daily said yesterday he had "hurt the people", and the often critical Media Indonesia daily said he had "dragged down national pride".
A good number of politicians and the public had also been critical of the move, with some saying he had caved in to external pressure and the apology had shown Indonesia up as weak.
On Wednesday, Dr Yudhoyono said he had been following conversations on social media and was concerned that SMSes and press questions to ministers had misinterpreted his remarks.
A minister had also received "weird" media questions wondering whether the stepped-up response to the haze - more than 3,000 staff were sent to Riau in the past two days - was the result of pressure from Singapore or another country, he noted.
"No one instructed me as president of a sovereign country," he told reporters at Jakarta's Halim Perdanakusuma Airbase.
"What I have done in the past two to three days - massive handling, deploying more officers - is fully my decision," he said.
"The thick haze has also inconvenienced our brothers in Riau."