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Iran's Nuclear Dispute May Overshadow Bali's D-8 Summit


Leaders from eight countries with large Muslim populations began arriving on the Indonesian island of Bali for a summit on trade and development issues. But, as VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins reports from Bali, Iran's deepening dispute with the West over its nuclear ambitions is likely to dominate the conference.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Bali Friday evening after a three-day state visit to Jakarta, where he lambasted the United States and its allies over their objections to Iran's nuclear program.

While in Jakarta, Mr. Ahmadinejad made fiery speeches denouncing the U.S. and Israel, saying repeatedly that Iran would not give up its nuclear program, which he says is for peaceful purposes.

"We will absolutely not back off from our own rights and our position which are legitimate and in line with the provisions of the international nuclear instruments," he said.

The U.S. and its European allies believe Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons and are pushing for United Nations sanctions against Tehran unless it halts its uranium enrichment program.

Indonesia, a secular and democratic nation with the world's largest Muslim population, is hosting the one-day summit Saturday of eight developing nations known as the D-8.

The summit is expected to focus on economic and political cooperation, including in science and technology, as well as addressing ways to ease the poverty that affects the members. However, many analysts think the countries' leaders will spend much of their meeting discussing Iran's nuclear dispute.

Indonesia has good relations with both Washington and Tehran and is eager to show the world the modern face of a pluralistic and moderate Islam.

After Friday prayers on Bali, a predominately Hindu island, Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged Muslims to fight extremism.

Presidential spokesman Andi Mallarengeng says Mr. Yudhoyono wants to get the message across that Islam is a religion of moderation.

"The president's message is that Islam is a religion of peace and we should cooperate, ... now the challenge of Islam, just like in any other religion, is extremism. Islam can show a different face; in Indonesia it shows a different face. We have some problems with terrorism, but Islam is a religion of peace," he said.

Indonesia has been plagued by a series of terrorist bombings. The biggest took place on Bali in 2002, killing over 200 people. More than 200 Muslim extremists have been arrested and prosecuted in Indonesia for the roles they played in the bombings over the past four years.

The presidential spokesman said the venue for the D-8 summit was chosen for symbolic reasons.

"You see the conference is here in Bali," he said. "D-8 is a caucus of Muslim countries but we are holding it in Bali and it shows that in Indonesia - the biggest Muslim country in the world - pluralism exists."

Aside from Indonesia and Iran, the D-8 groups Nigeria, Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Egypt.

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