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Deadly quake foreshadows more suffering

The West Sumatra earthquake unleashes criticism about how unprepared the government is for the big one to come. Political party Golkar elects a controversial minister to its top post. Police kill two more terror suspects. The President's anti-corruption movement gets emasculated by Parliament. Islamic bonds help improve the economy. Plus, newly-weds are forced to bribe the Religious Affairs Ministry; nationalistic youth threaten Malaysia; and a forensics report speculates the notorious Noordin Top was sodomized or homosexual at some point in his life.

Top News: A powerful earthquake devastated Padang, West Sumatra’s capital city, Sept. 30, killing at least 800 people and leveling hundreds of houses and buildings. The quake also triggered a series of mudslides that obliterated several small villages just outside the city.


The 7.6 magnitude quake, however, is thought by geologists to be only a precursor to a much larger, potentially devastating earthquake that has yet to come. West Sumatra sits atop tectonic plates and is struck by earthquakes often, leading some to criticize how unprepared both the city of Padang and the emergency response seemed to be. New houses and other buildings, for instance, are still not designed to withstand earthquakes – a simple, affordable practice that experts say could save lives.


While emergency workers flocked to West Sumatra, members of the country’s most-storied political party, Golkar, flocked to East Sumatra to elect a new chairman. Golkar is Suharto’s old political vehicle and is still associated with the late general’s penchant for corruption and cronyism.


It appears to have done nothing to squelch that reputation by voting in Aburizal Bakrie, the controversial minister of people’s welfare and one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen. Bakrie, whose network of family-owned companies is thought to have caused a mud volcano while drilling for oil, displacing tens of thousands, was once a Suharto favorite. The Golkar chairmanship is considered a stepping stone to the presidency.


Police killed two more terror suspects during another shootout. The shootout comes about a month after the killing of Noordin M. Top, Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorist, just outside the Central Javanese city of Solo. Indonesia’s counterterror police appear to be doing a lot of killing and not so much arresting, leading some human rights groups to question their methods.


Money: Shortly before leaving office, the old parliament passed a controversial bill that largely diluted the powerful Corruption Court, potentially thwarting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s anti-corruption drive, which is largely credited with improving the country’s investment climate. The bill gives more power to career judges on the Supreme Court and District Court to select Corruption Court judges. Career judges are seen as generally more prone to corruption than newer, independent lawyers.


Still, Indonesia’s economy continues to improve. The country’s exports have picked up pace and the Rupiah climbed to a year-on-year high Oct. 5.


The country’s finance ministry continues to encourage the development of an Islamic Finance market and on Oct. 13 held the first of what will become monthly Sukuk, or Islamic bond, auctions. The price of the auctions will hinge on demand. During a sale of retail Sukuk in February, the country netted 5.5 trillion Rupiah, far more than its targeted 1.7 trillion Rupiah, highlighting the potential of the Sharia market in Indonesia.


Indonesia’s Bank Century has changed its name to Bank Mutiara in a frail attempt to distance itself from both a bailout controversy and accusations of widespread corruption.


Elsewhere: Newlyweds attempting to register their marriages with Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Ministry are being forced to pay bribes to streamline the process. The ministry is in charge of almost everything related to Islamic affairs, including processing paperwork for Hajj pilgrims, a program also riddled with corruption.


A group of nationalistic youth has said it will send more than a thousand “troops” to attack Malaysia in response to the neighbor’s perceived poaching of Indonesian culture. The same group was stopped by police for halting passing motorists, checking their IDs, looking for Malaysians. It was unclear what their intention was, but they were holding bamboo sticks. Malaysians remain totally perplexed.


A police forensic expert told the Indonesian press Sept. 29 that Noordin Top, the terrorist leader killed last month during a raid, had been sodomized at some point during his life. Police said Noordin’s anus was shaped like a funnel, which led them to believe he was either raped or homosexual at some point. Others have suggested he might have been hiding bomb-making materials up there.