Indonesia candidate tells US no tolerance for extremism

Indonesia candidate tells US no tolerance for extremism
Hashim Djojohadikusumo speaks to a correspondent at AFP offices in Washington on December 6, 2013.

WASHINGTON- With Indonesia preparing for elections in the new year, one underdog candidate is promoting himself in the United States as a president who would crack down on Islamist extremists.

The United States has taken a growing interest in Indonesia, with President Barack Obama - who spent part of his childhood in Jakarta - seeing the world's largest Muslim-majority country as a ideal partner due to its embrace of democracy and its historically moderate brand of Islam.

But wealthy businessman Hashim Djojohadikusumo, brother of candidate Prabowo Subianto, said that violence in recent years against Christian, Ahmadiyah and other minorities showed a "total failure" by outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's administration on ensuring religious tolerance.

"I would give them an F-minus grade," Hashim told AFP during a recent visit to Washington to promote his brother.

Hashim said that Prabowo as president would enforce laws that protect religious freedom - a key foreign policy issue for many US lawmakers.

"The US government should be more active in voicing displeasure about the abdication of the Indonesian government in promoting minorities," he said.

Hashim's billing of his brother as a defender of minorities comes despite charges that Prabowo, then a military commander, led the torture of pro-democracy activists during the fall of strongman Suharto in the 1990s.

The United States has denied Prabowo a visa on human rights grounds.

Hashim argued that his brother was not alone in his military role. He also defended his brother's populist economic platform, which includes charges that the banking sector is too open.

"Whether that's considered nationalist, it's certainly not considered xenophobic. We just want fairness," Hashim said.

Prabowo, he said, supports foreign investment and "is not another Hugo Chavez," the late leftist Venezuelan leader.

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