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Controversial Obama statue back in public view

A statue of Barack Obama as a boy is placed at the Jakarta elementary school the U.S. president once attended, after its display in a public park prompted backlash.
Image: A bronze statue depicting Barack Obama as a boy
Indonesian workers move a bronze statue depicting President Barack Obama to his former primary school in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sunday.Bay Ismoyo / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

A statue of Barack Obama as a boy was placed late Sunday night at the Jakarta elementary school the U.S. president once attended, after its display in a public park prompted backlash in Indonesia's capital.

The installation of the bronze statue a week after it was removed from public view was a low-key event officiated by the school's principal and three local education officials. Scores of proud students had been among the crowd of 500 watching when Jakarta's mayor unveiled the statue in the nearby park in December.

The likeness based on a childhood photograph shows a 10-year-old Obama smiling at a butterfly perched on his outstretched thumb.

The late night event was scheduled to finish before almost 500 students arrive for school Monday, and was not an attempt to keep a low profile, said the main fundraiser for the statue, Ron Mullers. The statue was also removed from the public park on a Sunday night.

Facebook campaign
Many Indonesians are proud of Obama's connections to their country, but detractors of the statue's park display argued an Indonesian hero should be honored instead. A Facebook campaign attracted more than 50,000 supporters of the statue's removal, and court action was initiated to force it to be removed.

Mullers accused the critics of politicizing a statue meant to inspire Indonesian children to follow their dreams.

"This is a statue of boy named Little Barry who went to this school; it's not President Obama," Mullers said.

Opponents had mixed feelings about the statue's new position at Menteng 1 Elementary School, where it remains clearly visible from the street through a front gate.

'Not happy'
Heru Nugroho, leader of the Facebook campaign to remove the statue, said he was "not happy," but declined to comment further.

Another opponent, Yenni Rosa Damayanti, said she was satisfied that the statue was no longer in a public park.

"We should not erect statues of other countries' presidents in public parks when so many of Indonesia's heroes are not immortalized," she said. She added that she didn't mind the new location because the school had history with Obama.

Central Jakarta Education Office head Zainal Soleman and Vice Principal Solikhin, who goes by one name, helped three laborers set the statue in its wet concrete base.

Soleman said it was welcomed by the school. "It will inspire and motivate the children every day," he said.

The statue's original cost was $10,000 but the relocation increased it to $50,000, according to Mullers, an American living in Jakarta. Sponsors provided the additional money, he said.

"It wasn't cheap, but I'm glad it's now in the best place for it," said Mullers, who chairs the Jakarta-based Friends of Obama Foundation.

He said the president's staff has indicated Obama plans to visit the school and sign the statue's pedestal during his first presidential trip to the country in late March.

Obama, whose American mother married an Indonesian after divorcing his Kenyan father, went to school in the capital from 1967 to 1971.