Sun, 06 Feb 2000

Abdurrahman visits Pope, Italian PM

ROME (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid paid a courtesy call to Pope John Paul II on Saturday, following an overnight meeting with Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema.

While the meeting with the Catholic leader underscored Abdurrahman's commitment to upholding religious harmony, the visit to the Italian prime minister earned Abdurrahman support he needs to take on uphill challenges at home.

D'Alema joined U.S. President Clinton in issuing a warning to the Indonesian military against staging a coup. The Italian leader said that any attempt to unseat Abdurrahman would face tough consequences from the international community.

Italy, as well as other countries, would fully assist the democratically elected President in restoring the situation in his country and consolidating the country's democratization process, D'Alema.

The prime minister asserted that the world would isolate and reject Indonesia if the military tried to overthrow Abdurrahman's government.

"If anyone were to consider threatening the legitimate government of Indonesia, the price that to pay for such a deed would be isolation and rejection on the part of the international community," D'Alema said in a joint press conference with Abdurrahman at his Villa Madama office.

Accompanied by First Lady Sinta Nuriyah and several ministers, the President arrived here from Berlin on Friday evening, and went directly to the prime minister's office. The President met separately with Italian President Carlo Azeglio.

"The democratic government of Indonesia has made a significant advance in the relations between Indonesia and the international community," the prime minister remarked.

Italy is the sixth European country visited by the President on his 16-day trip to 12 countries in Europe and Asia. He received warm welcomes and promises in those countries. During the visit he appealed for more investment.

"I am aware that President Wahid is facing a very difficult challenge, I am also aware that tension and conflicts (in Indonesia) need to be overcome in order to strengthen and consolidate democracy. I take this opportunity to express total support for his actions," D'Alema said.

The President said his visit to Rome was aimed at learning from Italy's economic success and ways of upholding democracy. He reiterated that he would be able to resolve the country's difficulties in a short time, and that the military would not make any attempt to topple him.

"I hope it will not take too long, that we will be able to follow the example of Italy," Abdurrahman remarked.

In the economic sector, Italy is only ranked 24th from the top 30 investor countries in Indonesia. Its exports to Indonesia from January to August of 1999 totaled US$ 151 million, mostly in heavy machines, while its imports totaled $ 136 million.

Meanwhile after addressing about 100 Italian investors at the Marriot Hotel here, the President went to the Vatican to meet with the Pope. His delegation included Coordinating Minister for Economy, Finance and Industry Kwik Kian Gie, Minister of Foreign Affairs Alwi Shihab, and his economic advisor Frans Seda.

The two leaders met for about 40 minutes, in which Abdurrahman asked the Pope to help develop the national education.

The President presented a Jepara handicraft adorned with a scene of Jesus Christ's Last Supper to the Pope.

After their bilateral talks, First Lady Nuriyah also paid a courtesy call to the Pope.

The Pope invited the ministers and 11 Indonesian Catholic businessmen and journalists to receive his blessing.

The President will stay here until Sunday afternoon after his planned trip to the Czech Republic was canceled.

He will fly to Brussels for a two-day visit, then next destination to India, South Korea and Thailand. (prb)