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Rising anti-U.S. feelings force embassy closure extension in Indonesia

Protesters burn the U.S. flag outside the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia  

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- The U.S. Embassy in Indonesia will remain closed to the public through Thursday due to a threat to the compound, the State Department said on Tuesday.

The decision to shut the embassy in the world's most populous Muslim state took effect on October 25 and had been up for review on Wednesday.

It followed protests by Muslim groups against Arab deaths in recent Middle East violence. At least 154 people have been killed, most of them Palestinians.

CNN's Maria Ressa reports on the anti-U.S. sentiment in Indonesia

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"There is, again, credible information about a threat to the embassy compound," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a news briefing.

"They reviewed the threat information that was available, and they've decided to remain closed for public services through November 2, which is Thursday," he said.

The embassy remains staffed.

A senior State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity said there were two "currents" in Indonesia. One opposed the role that foreign powers including the United States had played in its crisis, and the other centred on Muslim solidarity with Arab victims in the Middle East.

"I would say the possible threats against our compound probably have more to do with anti-Americans," he said.

U.S. ambassador source of opposition

In one recent protest, a dozen lawmakers voiced their opposition to what they see as U.S. Ambassador Robert Gelbard's interference in local affairs, local media reported. Some lawmakers have demanded he be declared persona non grata, or recalled.

"Please do not treat Indonesia as some satellite country that America can push around," said Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a former Indonesian presidential spokesman, summing up many Indonesians' feelings. "Because if America is seen as too arrogant and too hectoring and beats Indonesia on the head, then I think there's going to be this nationalistic backlash."

The senior State Department official said it would be unfair to suggest Gelbard had caused the embassy threat.

"The ambassador has been trying to fix situations that are dangerous and threatening to Americans," the official said.

Boucher on Monday stood by Gelbard, saying he was representing U.S. policy in demanding more democracy, less corruption and a more open economy.

Last week the U.S. Embassy closed its doors, citing a 'credible threat'  

Bilateral relations have suffered in recent months. Indonesia's elite have been stung by Western criticism of the government's handling of pro-Jakarta militias in West Timor, who last year laid waste to East Timor after it voted to break from Indonesian rule.

Boucher said the United States was working with Jakarta to identify which groups ordered scores of Muslim men to enter international hotels in the city of Solo on Sunday and demand that American guests leave the country.

Hotel staff quoted the men as saying regular checks would occur in the future.

"We do look to the Indonesian police to give us that kind of information, to bring the perpetrators to justice, and above all, to safeguard U.S. citizens from those kinds of threats," he said in a comment that hinted at dissatisfaction with security provided to U.S. citizens there.

Late on Monday, the State Department updated a public announcement urging caution by Americans travelling to Indonesia and East Timor to say it was encouraging U.S. citizens to defer travel to the island of Java, which includes the capital Jakarta and Solo.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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