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The amazing disappearing terrorist

Indonesia's most wanted terrorist gets away again and again. Separate presidential assassination and mass bombing attempts are thwarted. The future of the country's essential corruption court hangs in the balance. And the Indonesian currency and economy continue to skyrocket.

Top News: The legend of Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist, the Malaysian-born Noordin M. Top, continues to grow after he managed to slip away, yet again, from counterterrorism police.


Indonesian police said Top had been killed in a shootout in Central Java on Aug. 8, only to turn around and admit it was actually not him on Aug. 10. A few days later police admitted that they were so close to nabbing Top during another shootout outside Jakarta that they had actually got him on film fleeing.


Top, who is blamed for involvement in nearly all of Indonesia’s terrorist bombings, has escaped such raids time and time again for years and is beginning to develop a legendary status akin to Osama bin Laden, who has also long avoided capture.


The Aug. 8 weekend was filled with dramatic raids, including one that was covered live by television cameras, showing a large country barn being blown to pieces by police and snipers.


An assassination plot was also revealed against President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and hundreds of kilos of explosives were discovered near Jakarta. Meanwhile, police killed at least three suspected terrorists, including a florist working at the recently-bombed Marriott Hotel who police believed aided the bombers.


But still no Noordin Top. The search continues.


Indonesia’s recently re-elected president, Yudhoyono, is also struggling to respond to a series of violent attacks along a road leading to the American-owned Freeport McMoran’s Gold and Copper Mine in the remote province of Papua. Unidentified attackers shot up a bus carrying employees of the mine on Aug. 16, wounding five people. A separate attack occurred just days before and a spate of shootings, all along the same road, occurred in July.


Police had arrested eight people for the July shootings, which killed an Australian man, but no arrests have yet been made in the most recent attacks. The Indonesian government continues to blame a lo-fi Papuan separatist movement, but a human rights group said the Indonesian military, trying to extract protection money from the mining giant, could be to blame.


A third issue plaguing the president’s re-election is the fate of anti-corruption legislation languishing in parliament. Lawmakers have yet to vote on the bill, which would extend the life of the powerful corruption court. The court has successfully prosecuted dozens of high-profile politicians, businessmen, bankers and others, but its term will run out unless extended by a not-surprisingly uninterested parliament. The dissolution of the corruption court would be a major blow to Indonesia’s hailed reforms in recent years.


Money: President Yudhoyono said Aug. 3 that he planned to increase spending on infrastructure and civil service reforms to attract more investment and spur growth. In a speech to parliament, Yudhoyono projected at least 5 percent growth next year and higher percentages after that.


As one of the only economies in the region still growing, Indonesia has begun attracting more interest from investors. But during the major budget speech, Yudhoyono said more bureaucratic reforms were still desperately needed.


The president’s speech came on a day when the Rupiah showed further gains against the dollar. The Rupiah, in fact, has strengthened 11.3 percent against the dollar so far this year, making it the top performer in Asia.


Meanwhile, Indonesia’s main stock index has gained 67 percent so far this year, a jump ranked third in Asia behind the Shenzhen and Shanghai markets in China, which grew 93 and 74 percent respectively. Economists said the gains underscored the revival of investor confidence since last year’s crash.


Elsewhere: Golkar, the former political vehicle for Suharto, Indonesia’s late kleptocratic leader, is holding meetings to discuss who will be its next chairman. The party, long the largest and most popular in Indonesia, partly because of its willingness to buy votes, has faced a series of defeats in recent years, including during July’s presidential elections.


The party is faced with trying to repair a reputation among voters that it mainly supports political insiders, aging Suharto cronies and powerful businessmen. As such, its front runners are currently Aburizal Bakrie, the billionaire businessman connected to dozens of corruption cases and a former favorite of Suharto, and Tommy Suharto, the late-president’s son who has suspiciously managed to wiggle out of numerous lawsuits trying to reclaim money he accumulated during his father’s 30-year tenure. A decision is expected Monday, but the country seems increasingly nonchalant.