Indonesians protest Abbott's aid reminder, collect coins to repay Australia
JAKARTA, Indonesia – Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's attempt to get two Australians off of Indonesia's death row by reminding the neighboring country of their aid during the devastating 2004 tsunami is massively backfiring.
Tensions between the two nations have grown after Indonesia confirmed Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, ringleaders of the so-called Bali Nine heroin trafficking group, were among the next group of prisoners to face the firing squad.
When Abbott asked Jakarta to spare the two men's lives by reminding them of Australia's one billion dollar aid in the aftermath of the disaster that killed 170,000 Indonesians, he said he "was referring to the obvious strength of the relationship between Indonesia and Australia." (READ: Australia PM denies threatening Indonesia)
But that didn't go down well among Indonesians. Aside from the angry response from Indonesia's Foreign Ministry, a campaign quickly began in Aceh – the province that suffered the most from the tsunami – to collect coins to repay Australia's aid.
Over the past 3 days, netizens have been posting pictures of piles of coins with the hashtag #KoinuntukAustralia (coins for Australia).
Mutia, a high school student in Banda Aceh, told Rappler she opened her piggy bank after seeing the news. "As a resident of Aceh, I'm disappointed that the prime minister of Australia would use as leverage the aid they gave. When the tsunami struck, we didn't ask help from them, but people from all over the world came here to help the people of Aceh. We believe that aid should be given without strings attached," she said.
Groups have also set up a collection center in Aceh, and taken to the streets to collect coins among motorists. The coins, they said, will be taken to Australia's embassy in Jakarta.
By Sunday, February 22, the hashtag was trending nationwide and the protesters demonstrated in the middle of Jakarta's central business district.
Two weeks ago, a threat that Australians would boycott Bali should the executions proceed also led to angry statements online and offline, with Indonesians saying the popular tourist island will survive without Australian tourists.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has called Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla to clarify Abbott's comments and emphasize Australia's close relationship with Indonesia.
"I have made it quite clear that the prime minister was simply illustrating the point that Australia has been and remains a supporter, a close friend of Indonesia," Bishop told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
"Certainly these comments were not any attempt to threaten Indonesia."
Relations between the neighbors are only just recovering from a damaging rift in 2014 over spying revelations and people-smuggling.
Kalla's office said Friday that the latest executions "will be delayed for between three weeks to a month from now due to technical reasons," without elaborating further. (READ: Jakarta delays execution of two Australians, denies pressure to blame)
Bishop expressed her gratitude that there had been a delay in the men's scheduled transfer from Bali to the high-security prison where they are due to be executed, telling the Sydney Morning Herald: "I said I hoped we could seek an indefinite stay of execution."
However, Indonesia's attorney-general Muhammad Prasetyo declared earlier Friday that "nothing whatsoever" could stop the execution of the two Australians from going ahead.
Indonesia executed 6 drug offenders in January, including 5 foreigners, prompting a furious Brazil and the Netherlands – whose citizens were among those put to death – to recall their ambassadors. – with a report from Nurdin Hasan and Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com