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Anti-corruption chief sentenced for murdering golf buddy

Azhar is given 18 years after revelations about an affair with his friend's a 22-year old wife. Obama intends to finally visit Indonesia, where a statue of him has triggered controversy. President Yudhoyono bans buffalo pictures and endures ridicule from the media. The economy grows faster than any other in Southeast Asia. Parliament's lengthy Bank Century bailout probe spooks investors. And Indonesian soccer hooligans earn their place among the world's rowdiest.

Top News: An Indonesian court sentenced the country’s former anticorruption czar to 18 years in prison Feb. 11 for orchestrating the murder of a prominent business executive. The verdict marks the culmination of almost one year of all kinds of intrigue that not only crippled Indonesia’s fight against corruption but also made public an ongoing war between the country’s top law enforcement agencies.

Police arrested Antasari Azhar, the anticorruption chief, in May of last year, two months after the drive-by shooting of businessman and golf buddy Nasrudin Zulkarnaen. Prosecutors argued that Antasari had masterminded the murder in an attempt to cover up his affair with a 22-year old female golf caddie who also happened to be Zulkarnaen’s third wife.

The defense claimed it was a conspiracy to discredit Antasari and the anticorruption agency, which had recently begun investigating the attorney general’s office and the national police.

The caddie’s testimony, partially aired on cable television in November and again before the verdict, captivated Indonesians from coast to coast to coast. A sample read by the judge: “The defendant asked the witness to massage him in bed but she refused and massaged him on the sofa. The defendant kissed the lips of the witness. His hands opened two, three buttons on her shirt and slipped inside her bra.” Here’s a picture (apparently a self-portrait) of the illicit couple.

The scandal, fit for daytime television, temporarily stalled President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s fight against graft. The president had leaned on the agency to fulfill his promises of investigating corruption since its establishment in 2003. The agency has since gotten back to work, again focusing its attention on the attorney general’s office.

U.S. President Barack Obama has announced his intentions to finally visit Indonesia, where he lived for four years as a child with his American mother and Indonesian step-father. Indonesians have been anticipating his visit, which has been delayed several times, since his inauguration.

The American president enjoys high approval ratings among Indonesians due to his personal connection to the country. Analysts expect significant bilateral programs to be announced during his visit. But some were angered by the erection of an Obama statue in a park near to where he once lived. The protests, made largely through a Facebook group, forced the Jakarta administration to move the statue out of the public park to the school Obama attended.

In other protest news, President Yudhoyono, a former general, revealed his sensitivity when he announced he would ban the use of any representations of a buffalo from public demonstrations. The president was apparently offended by comparisons made between him and the corpulent beast. He then endured several weeks of ridicule in the Indonesian media.

Human rights lawyers have launched a judicial review with the country’s Constitutional Court into a 1965 law on blasphemy that has long served as a means to jail religious leaders and adherents that deviate from accepted religious norms. The Islamic sect of Ahmadiyah, which believes in a prophet after Mohammad and has suffered persecution at the hands of radical Islamists here, was partially banned by the president, who used the law as justification, in 2008.

Money: Indonesia’s economy continues to astound. It expanded by 5.4 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to a year earlier, the fastest pace in a year, due to lower interest rates and government stimulus measures. The country’s economy is growing faster than anywhere else in Southeast Asia.

Indonesian non-oil and gas exports are also expected to increase significantly in 2010. The country’s deputy trade minister said exports could increase by between 7 and 8.5 percent this year from a year earlier as western economies continue to improve.

Still, investors are increasingly spooked by the country’s fragile political climate. The ongoing, and ongoing and ongoing, inquiry by parliament, the country’s most corrupt body, into the bailout of Bank Century last year has threatened the jobs of the country’s two top reformers, Finance Minsiter Sri Mulyani and Vice President Boediono, who ordered the bailout at the height of the financial crisis to, they said, avoid a larger banking collapse.

Elsewhere: The Indonesian government has proposed developing a section of central Jakarta’s largest park into a designated protest area in a bid to accommodate the country’s energetic demonstrators while reducing the crippling traffic they cause on a weekly basis.

Protestors normally gather around the city’s central traffic circle and march up and down its main thoroughfare. The traffic this causes does not win them many supporters but demonstrators worry they will lack exposure in the park.

Indonesian soccer fans are earning a name for themselves among the world’s rowdiest. The Persebaya soccer club from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, caused more than $100,000 worth of damage on 10 passenger train cars and five locomotives during their trip to Bandung, a city in West Java, for its annual match against its rivals there.

Nicknamed “Bonek,” the Javanese term for “reckless mob,” the supporters also chucked rocks at police officers, journalists and bystanders along the way. On the way back, residents struck back. The supporters have now been banned from attending matches until 2014, but that is unlikely to be enforced.