SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday offered a glimmer of hope for two men facing imminent execution in Indonesia after phoning President Joko Widodo, whom he said was "carefully considering his position".
Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, ringleaders of the so-called "Bali Nine" drug smuggling gang, were arrested for trying to traffic heroin out of Indonesia in 2005 and sentenced to death the following year. Their appeals for presidential clemency, typically the final chance of avoiding the firing squad, were recently rejected by Mr Joko and a court this week dismissed a bid to challenge that decision.
The looming executions by firing squad have dramatically heightened tensions between Australia and Indonesia, fraying ties that were only just recovering from a spying row, and Mr Abbott called his counterpart on Wednesday evening. "Well, it was a positive sign that the conversation took place," said Mr Abbott, who last week angered some in Indonesia by reminding Jakarta of the aid Canberra had provided during natural disasters. "The fact that the president of Indonesia and the prime minister of Australia can talk candidly about these issues is a sign of the strength of the relationship and it's a sign of the depth of the friendship between Australia and Indonesia."
He said it would not help Chan and Sukumaran to detail his talks but "suffice to say that the President absolutely understands our position". "And I think he is carefully considering Indonesia's position."
Mr Joko insisted this week that other nations must not interfere in Indonesia's right to use the death penalty and Attorney-General Muhammad Prasetyo on Wednesday said preparations for a new round of executions were "about 90 per cent" complete.
Mr Prasetyo said that 10 drug convicts would be included in the next round and the final step before the executions would be their transfer from several cities to Nusakambangan, an island off Java where they will be put to death.
The Australians are among a group of foreigners, including a Frenchman and a Brazilian, facing imminent execution.
Mr Abbott cautioned about raising false hopes after his phone call, while describing Mr Joko as a friend.
"I don't want to raise hope that might turn out to be dashed. I don't want to reflect on Indonesia or my friend President Joko Widodo," he said.
"I want to ensure that as far as is humanly possible, I am speaking out for Australians and for Australian values. But I also have to respect and defend Australia's friendships.
"One of the very best of our friendships is that with Indonesia."
Brazil and France have also been ramping up pressure on Jakarta, with Paris summoning Indonesia's envoy and the Brazilian president refusing to accept the credentials of the new Indonesian ambassador.