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In Indonesia, Rice hails moderate Islam

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised the moderate brand of Islam that prevails in multiethnic Indonesia, but acknowledged yesterday that US foreign policy is often unpopular in the Muslim world.

''I understand that the United States has had to do things in the world that are not that popular in much of the world," Rice said in response to a question about anti-American sentiment that has arisen since the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Beginning a two-day visit to a key US ally in the struggle against terrorism -- and the world's most populous Muslim nation -- Rice said that sometimes there is a ''lack of understanding about how much the United States respects people of the Islamic faith."

She pointed to the outpouring of support by Americans following the 2004 tsunami that killed 130,000 people in Indonesia's Aceh province alone.

Rice's visit drew hundreds of Islamic hard-liners to demonstrate outside the heavily guarded US Embassy. The crowd was far smaller than last week's rally by about 5,000 people, who demanded that US troops leave Iraq and Afghanistan and called President Bush a terrorist and a colonialist.

Rice held up Indonesia as an example of tolerance, making an implicit contrast with extremist Muslim ideology and Islamic terrorism.

''I don't think there's any disagreement that we need to fight this common enemy," Rice said. Terrorists have struck in Bali and Jakarta in recent years, including a fatal blast at the downtown hotel where Rice's party stayed.

Her visit to Indonesia was partly an effort to present the best face of the United States to the country. It included a tour of an Islamic grade school and announcement of an $8.5 million grant to bring ''Sesame Street" education tools to Indonesian schools.

Andina Sukma Wati, a 10-year-old girl, asked Rice how a girl can grow up to be a high government officer.

''You start by studying hard," Rice told her.

Rice seemed unfamiliar with the Sesame Street characters, muffing ''Miss Piggy" as ''Miss Pinky" before getting it right.

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