- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2000

Closed in Indonesia

The U.S. ambassador to Indonesia yesterday decided to close the American Embassy to the public for the rest of the week because of a "credible threat" to the diplomatic mission.

Ambassador Robert Gelbard also issued a warning to American citizens in Indonesia to "exercise caution" in their daily activities.

The State Department announced the closure of the embassy but gave no details. The embassy was scheduled to close today for an Indonesian holiday, but the ambassador decided to keep the mission closed tomorrow and Friday.

The closure will affect the issuance of visas, passports and other public business.

The State Department insisted that the decision to close the mission had nothing to do with the increasing tension between the Indonesian government and Mr. Gelbard.

Defense Minister Mahfud has accused Mr. Gelbard of interfering with the deportation of an American tourist accused of spying and trying to influence the selection of a new army chief of staff.

The embassy on Monday accused Mr. Mahfud of spreading disinformation and "creating a climate of anti-Americanism in Indonesia."

Jews and Hispanics

Jamie Daremblum was proud to host a forum for Jews and Hispanics. After all, the ambassador from Costa Rica fits both categories.

"I grew up celebrating Hanukkah, while my neighbors celebrated Christmas, which meant that I shared in my Catholic friends' Christmas and they shared in my Hanukkah," Mr. Daremblum told guests at the Hispanic-Jewish Dialogue at the Costa Rican Embassy this week.

The forum was organized by the National institute for Jewish Leadership.

"In a way," Mr. Daremblum added, "for some of us, this dialogue has been going on all of our lives. Living as part of ethnic or religious minorities, we learn the subtle differences that make us unique when we are very young."

Jews account for about one-tenth of 1 percent of Costa Rica's 3.6 million people, who are 95 percent Roman Catholic.

"Jews, as well as other minorities, have been free to honor their beliefs and strengthen ties as communities, thanks to an exceptionally open and encouraging society," Mr. Daremblum said.

He noted that Costa Rica began as a "poor, backward province far and remote" from Spanish and Mexican colonial authorities.

"Isolated and left to their own devices, local settlers developed a rugged individualism and became self-reliant," Mr. Daremblum said.

"As a result, they developed a strong sense of self and of the value of individuals. In the society they shaped, freedom, tolerance and pluralism became the guiding principles, values so deeply rooted in the idiosyncrasy of the people that they became their national identity."

Costa Rica has maintained one of the most democratic government in Latin America since independence in 1848.

Russia freedom at risk

A leading Russian human rights advocate fears President Vladimir Putin is moving the country back toward Soviet-styled restrictions on civil liberties.

"We are defending human rights like we did 12 years ago, and we might soon have to work underground like we did 20 years ago," Sergei Grigoriants told a Washington forum hosted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty yesterday.

Mr. Grigoriants, chairman of the Glasnost Foundation, said Mr. Putin is using the legal system to restrict human rights.

The Russian government has required pro-democracy groups to re-register with central authorities, resulting in only 12 percent meeting the latest regulations.

The Russian parliament is considering establishing a constitutional assembly to change current civil and political rights, he said.

"In this way, the Putin government will lawfully narrow the constitutionally guaranteed rights of its citizens, which it has long ignored or violated," Mr. Grigoriants said.

Mr. Putin is also monopolizing the mass media and making it more difficult for Russians to gain access to the Internet.

Mr. Grigoriants said human rights organizations are planning a national conference in December in Moscow to draw attention to "the weakening of civil society in Russia."

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