Web Desk: Cheering crowds welcomed King Salman Wednesday as he began the first visit by a Saudi monarch to Indonesia for almost 50 years, seeking stronger economic ties with the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.
The king — who is accompanied by about 1,000 people travelling on several aircraft, including princes and ministers — disembarked from his plane using an escalator as he arrived at an airport in Jakarta, his latest stop on an Asian tour.
The 81-year-old was greeted by President Joko Widodo and Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian who is standing trial for blasphemy.
Crowds of flag-waving schoolchildren lined the route as a convoy of vehicles carrying the king and his entourage sped through pouring rain to a presidential palace in the nearby city of Bogor, where a marching band played the Indonesian national anthem.
Almost 460 tons of equipment have been flown in for the visit, including Mercedes limousines, with most transported to the Hindu resort island of Bali, where Salman will go on holiday after visiting Jakarta.
Widodo hailed Salman’s trip as “historic” and said he hoped it could lead to closer economic ties.
“As the country with the biggest Muslim population in the world, Indonesia will always have a special bond with Saudi Arabia,” he told the king at the palace.
Salman said he hoped the visit would “contribute to the improvement of the bilateral relationship between our two countries”.
The visit — the first by a Saudi Arabian king to Indonesia for 47 years — is one of the highlights of a rare Saudi royal tour of Asia which is seeking investment as the world’s biggest oil exporter tries to diversify its economy.
Preparations have been elaborate. Naked statues at the Bogor palace were covered up before Salman’s arrival, while local media reported that 150 chefs had been hired to cook for the king’s party and a VIP toilet had been specially built at a major mosque he will visit.
The monarch and his entourage will reportedly stay in five luxury hotels in Bali for several days following the visit to Jakarta.
Business deals could be announced, and a series of cooperation memoranda are also set to be signed on issues ranging from security, to health and education. The king is due to give a speech to parliament on Thursday.
Indonesia will also seek approval to send more citizens to the annual hajj pilgrimage in western Saudi Arabia, which is home to Islam’s holiest sites.
Salman kicked off his three-week Asian tour in Malaysia earlier this week, and is also set to visit Japan, China and the Maldives.