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Volcano Eruptions Will Not Stop Obama Visit to Indonesia

Indonesian soldiers search for victims after eruption of Mount Merapi in Cangkringan, Yogyakarta, 8 Nov. 2010.

Indonesian soldiers search for victims after eruption of Mount Merapi in Cangkringan, Yogyakarta, 8 Nov. 2010.

Despite speculation that the latest eruptions from the Merapi volcano in Indonesia might cause President Obama to cancel his visit to Jakarta November 9 and 10, American officials say the trip will proceed as planned.

No change in plans

In recent days, many international airlines canceled flights to the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, because of high levels of ash in the air caused by powerful eruptions from the Merapi volcano in central Java. This caused speculation that President Barack Obama might have to cancel his planned trip to Indonesia - his second stop in a 10-day Asian tour. Spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Paul Belmont, says the president's visit will go on, as planned.

"We fully expect the president to arrive on schedule tomorrow," Belmont said. "I realize that there was some speculation, especially over the weekend after. I believe Friday night there was an especially large eruption and some flights were canceled at the international airport. But, as I understand it, that most flights have been resumed."

Volcanic activity

Merapi is the country's most active volcano and it unleashed its most powerful eruption in a century Friday. The death toll has topped 100 people. Thousands of others have been evacuated from the area. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yuhoyono temporarily moved his office to central Java to oversee relief efforts. However, officials say he will be back in Jakarta to meet with President Obama.

International carriers like Air Emirates, Singapore Air and Lufthansa have all resumed flights to Jakarta. Chris Davies, a meteorologist with the Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Center, advises airlines about the risk of ash in the atmosphere from volcanic eruptions in the region. He says conditions over Jakarta have improved.

"We have advisories out at the moment, but not to the same extent as it was over the weekend," Davies said. "We currently have ash affecting central parts of Java, mostly in the vicinity of Merapi itself, up to about 10 kilometers in height."

Davies says the winds have changed and are moving the ash southwest, away from the Indonesian capital and out to the Indian ocean.

President Obama had twice canceled visits to Indonesia, in the past year, because of domestic issues at home. During his visit this week, he will promote American exports to the region and discuss other issues of mutual concern, such terrorism and environmental protection.