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Australian PM seeks to repair strained ties on Indonesia visit

Update: November, 12/2015 - 12:20

JAKARTA — Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull makes his first visit to Indonesia on Thursday since taking power, seeking to repair a key relationship strained by repeated crises under his conservative predecessor.

Ties between the neighbours sank to their lowest level in years under former premier Tony Abbott, with rows erupting over Jakarta's execution of Australian drug smugglers, Canberra's hardline policy of turning migrant boats back to Indonesia, and espionage allegations.

But there are hopes relations will improve under Turnbull, who took power in a Liberal Party coup in September. His views are more socially liberal than Abbott, whose tough approach -- in particular the boat turn-back policy -- often riled Jakarta.

"I think this visit will be quite important because it marks an opportunity for a reset in the wake of Tony Abbott's departure," Tim Lindsey, an Indonesia expert from the University of Melbourne, told Australia's ABC radio.

Turnbull will hold talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Jakarta during the one-day visit, which will have "a particular focus on trade and economic ties", according to the Australian government.

The allies are key trade partners, with Indonesia a major market for Australian exports, including cattle and wheat.

Jakarta and Canberra work together in a number of other areas, including combating Muslim extremism. Fears are growing in both Muslim-majority Indonesia and Australia that their nationals who have fought with the Islamic State group in the Middle East could launch attacks on their return home.

It is Turnbull's second foreign visit since taking power -- his first was to New Zealand -- and he will go on afterwards to several international summits. — AFP

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