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Indonesia Urges Asia-Pacific Economies to Prevent Trade Protectionism

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has called on Asia-Pacific economies to prevent protectionism and open their markets to each other to keep the region on a recovery path.

Mr. Yudhoyono made the appeal Sunday, speaking to more than 1,000 political and business leaders at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum on the Indonesian island of Bali.

The Indonesian president said strengthening trade relations will help APEC economies to improve the well-being of their citizens. But, he also cautioned that trade must be "balanced."

APEC's 21 nations and territories hope to use the forum to boost their economies by finding new markets for their goods and services. Mr. Yudhoyono also encouraged forum participants to take advantage of foreign investment opportunities in his nation.

Twelve APEC members are engaged in negotiations for a free trade area called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

U.S. President Barack Obama had hoped to attend the APEC forum to promote his goal of securing a TPP agreement by the end of this year. But, he canceled his attendance due to domestic budgetary disputes that led to the partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government.

Mr. Obama's pursuit of a free trade deal is part of his strategy of refocusing U.S. attention on Asia, where China has been trying to expand its influence, to the concern of regional U.S. allies. Chinese President Xi Jinping is attending the APEC forum, but is not involved in the TPP negotiations.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Mr. Obama's absence from the forum is "a very big disappointment". He said APEC "obviously" prefers a U.S. government "that is working to one that is not."

Mr. Lee also U.S. engagement in Asia cannot be replaced by any other power, including China and Japan.

TPP negotiations have been complicated by concerns in some Asia-Pacific nations that free trade could harm domestic industries.

Meanwhile, three activists from Indonesia's West Papua province tried to raise awareness among APEC members about alleged human rights abuses in their homeland by submitting a protest letter to the Australian consulate in Bali early Sunday.

The activists' group said the trio climbed over a wall into the compound before dawn and handed over a letter calling for international pressure on Indonesia to release 55 people whom they describe as political prisoners in West Papua.

The activists also called on Jakarta to remove restrictions on foreign travel to the province, where a low-level insurgency has been targeting the Indonesian government for decades.

The Australian government said the West Papuan activists left the Bali consulate without incident on Sunday morning.

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