Australian Prime Minister John Howard is urging the Indonesian government to take a tough stance against terrorism. Mr. Howard spoke as Indonesia prepares to question an Islamic cleric who has been linked to al-Quaeda, and to enact a measure to give the police broader powers.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard says his government had been pushing Indonesia to do more to counter regional terrorism, even before Saturday's deadly bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali. More than 180 people died in that explosion, which tore through an area jammed with tourists, and the majority of the dead appear to be Australians.
Mr. Howard spoke to the news media in Bali on Friday before returning to Australia. He was there to meet with government officials, and with family members of the victims. "I will say without equivocation we have put the view again urgently and strongly to the Indonesian government since last Saturday, that a much tougher response to terrorism must be taken. This is a view that we have put to the Indonesian government over a long period of time," he said.
Mr. Howard declined to comment about Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir. Regional governments and the United States charge that Mr. Bashir is the head of Jemaah Islamiah, a militant group allegedly linked to the al-Qaeda terror network, and have urged his arrest.
Indonesia has previously said it lacks the evidence to arrest Mr. Bashir. But authorities Friday named him as a suspect in a series of bombings across Indonesia that took place on Christmas Eve in 2000. He has been ordered to appear for questioning on Saturday in relation to those bombings.
Mr. Bashir has consistently denied he has anything to do with terrorism. He also denies he had anything to do with the Bali blast.
Meanwhile, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri is expected to sign an emergency anti-terrorism decree later Friday. The decree will reportedly give the authorities broader powers to detain terrorist suspects and would supercede anti-terrorism legislation that has been bogged down in parliament for weeks. Prior to the Bali bombing, lawmakers had debated whether the new decree would give security forces too much power, possibly resulting in arbitary arrests.
With the new decree enacted, lawmakers say, Indonesia will have the proper legal authority to go after suspected militants. Mr. Howard said he is pleased with the Indonesian government's response to the terrorism situation.