Megawati to skip memorial service for Bali blast victims

DESPITE CRITICISM AT HOME AND ABROAD …

President Megawati Sukarnoputri will not attend a memorial service in Bali next week to mark the first anniversary of Indonesia’s worst terrorist attack.

Against a backdrop of criticism at home and abroad, Indonesian officials said the President had decided to skip the Oct 12 commemoration out of respect for local Balinese culture.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hasan Wirayuda said the decision was taken after consulting Balinese officials and religious leaders.

‘It is not part of their tradition to commemorate the deaths, especially after holding a grand ceremony to purify the island in November last year after the blasts,’ he said.

Mr Hasan was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Asean summit in Bali.

The Jakarta Post yesterday also quoted him as saying that Ms Megawati could not attend the ceremony because it coincided with the state visit by Algeria’s leader to Jakarta.

Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is scheduled to arrive on Oct 12.

Ms Megawati visited Algeria in September last year.

Some have suggested that the President might have been reluctant to attend the event given threats of a terror attack.

But a senior Indonesian official downplayed such speculation, saying the key factor for Jakarta was sensitivity to Balinese culture.

The President had reportedly sought the advice of Hindu leaders about the religious and cultural aspects of attending such an event.

Bali Governor I Dewa Made Beratha also sought the advice of several elders in Bali.

The governor, who attended the news conference with Mr Hasan, said: ‘We conducted the cleansing ceremony which served as the end of the mourning period.’

The Balinese tradition is different from the predominant Javanese culture in Indonesia.

The Javanese believe in holding a series of rituals over time after a family member’s death.

Reports here said security czar Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono would attend the ceremony in place of Ms Megawati.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard will also be at the event to mark the deaths of more than 80 Australians in the attack last October.

Altogether, 200 people were killed when explosions ripped through two nightclubs on the island.

The Australian media has been critical of Ms Megawati’s decision not to attend the commemoration.

People in Indonesia have also been scathing in their remarks given that 40 Indonesians died in the bombings.

Political observer Soedjati Djiwandono told The Straits Times: ‘Megawati must remember that the Bali bombings is not just a local Balinese issue. It is a national tragedy with international ramifications.

‘It is another example of poor leadership and a failure to read the ground correctly.’

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