Saudi King Salman and Indonesian President Joko Widodo are shielded from heavy rain as they head to their meeting in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia. (Pool photo by Achmad Ibrahim via Reuters)

Saudi King Salman is visiting Asia, accompanied by a large entourage and plenty of luggage, on a trip designed to shore up his Middle Eastern kingdom's economic and cultural ties with countries in the region.

But the Saudi royal's visit to the Indonesian island of Bali has raised some eyebrows after local authorities decided to not cover up statues of Hindu deities and semi-naked women during the visit.

That decision came just days after the Indonesian government covered nude statues at the presidential palace in Bogor, near the capital, Jakarta. The statues were either surrounded with plant pots or draped in cloth, according to reports.

A local website, Kumparan, reported that the decision to cover statues at the Bogor palace was made because Salman was the official representative of an Islamic country, although statues also have been covered up for other foreign leaders, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who visited the palace in January.

But the governor of predominantly Hindu Bali, Made Mangku Pastika, told a local newspaper that the statues on the island “will not be covered” for Salman's visit.

“Bali is famous for being comfortable, safe, and tolerant, so we will leave it as is,” Pastika was quoted as saying by the Tribun Bali on Friday.

A local government spokesman confirmed the decision in an interview with Agence France-Presse this week. “We're just going to leave [the statues] as they are. We don't have to cover up anything because it is our culture,” Dewa Mahendra said, adding that statues were “cultural creations.”

According to Mahendra, Salman's entourage had not asked for any statues to be covered.


A statue near a main road in Denpasar on Indonesia's resort island of Bali. (Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP)

Although Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, Hinduism strongly influences the culture of Bali.

Salman arrived in Bali on Saturday and was originally to leave Thursday, but he extended his stay until Saturday, the Jakarta Post reports. The visit of the Saudi royal and his 1,500-person entourage has turned into a major event for the island, with luxury hotels booked up exclusively for the Saudi group and at least 2,500 police and military personnel guarding the visitors during their stay.

Local authorities are hopeful that the Saudi leader's visit will encourage Middle Eastern tourists to visit the island, and they have been making a note of the sites Salman visits in the hope of establishing a trail for other tourists to follow.

Last year, a decision to cover nude statues in Italy during a visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sparked controversy in Europe. Neighboring France, which also hosted Rouhani, refused to replicate Italy's move.

Salman's month-long Asia tour includes not only the first visit to Indonesia by a Saudi leader in almost 50 years, but also stops in Malaysia, Brunei, Japan, China and Maldives. The journey is intended to strengthen ties to the region as Saudi Arabia begins the difficult task of diversifying its oil-driven economy.

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