Minister admits reluctant Michelle Obama handshake

A conservative Muslim government minister admits he shook hands with first lady Michelle Obama in welcoming her to Indonesia but says it wasn`t his choice.

Last Updated: Nov 10, 2010, 16:43 PM IST

Jakarta: A conservative Muslim government
minister admits he shook hands with first lady Michelle Obama
in welcoming her to Indonesia but says it wasn`t his choice.

Footage on YouTube shows otherwise, sparking a debate
that has lit up Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the
blogosphere.

"I tried to prevent (being touched) with my hands but
Mrs Michelle held her hands too far toward me (so) we
touched," Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring told tens of
thousands of followers on Twitter.

While Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in
the world, the vast majority practice a moderate form of the
faith. But Sembiring has flaunted his conservatism and says he
avoids contact with women who are not related to him.

The minister was among the dignitaries in a receiving
line that greeted President Barack Obama and his wife as they
arrived in Jakarta today -- a homecoming of sorts for the
president who spent part of his childhood here.

Indonesians gathered around television sets across the
country to watch the American president touch down. Children
at the school he attended practiced a song dedicated to him
just in case he visited.

In footage of the official welcome, Sembiring appeared
to share his countrymen`s enthusiasm. He smiled broadly as he
shook the president`s hand and then reached with both hands to
grasp Michelle Obama`s. But later he said she forced their
contact.

His denial was in a response to tweets from
Indonesians who noted the handshake and questioned his
long-standing claims that, as a good Muslim, he restricts his
contact with women.

Many posts had a ``gotchya`` quality to them.
One female journalist -- who said the minister had
refused to shake her hand -- gleefully noted that now he would
no longer be able to wriggle out of it.

Sembiring has often tweeted controversial comments,
including blaming natural disasters on a lack of morality and
joking about AIDS.

PTI