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November 08, 2010. JAKARTA (KATAKAMI / Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama’s twice-postponed visit to Indonesia looked on track on Monday after flights to the capital returned to normal following a weekend of disruptions caused by a deadly volcano.
Mount Merapi in central Java began spewing lava, superheated gas and deadly clouds of ash two weeks ago, and has so far killed over 130 people and forced the evacuation of nearly 300,000.
Dozens of flights to and from the capital Jakarta, around 600 km (375 miles) from the volcano, were cancelled over the weekend after the volcano belched fresh clouds of volcanic ash 6,000 metres (19,000 ft) into the atmosphere.
Indonesian authorities saying conditions were safe, but international airlines scrapped scores of flights.
By Monday afternoon normal service had mostly resumed, though Filipino budget airline Cebu Air Inc said it had cancelled its 9.30 p.m. (1330 GMT) flight to Jakarta.
“All have returned to normal,” said Andang Santoso, a spokesman for the operator of Jakarta’s Sukarno-Hatta airport. “They trust us that there is no impact of Merapi here, so they can fly here.”
Authorities did, however, order the closure of the airport at Yogyakarta, the historic cultural city closest to the volcano.
“Since the weather is impossible … we decided to close Yogyakarta for both commercial and civil aircrafts,” said Harjoso Tjandra, operational and technical director at the airport.
On Sunday, U.S. officials said they were closely monitoring the situation ahead of Obama’s scheduled Tuesday arrival.
Obama has twice postponed visits to Indonesia — where he lived for several years as a child with his mother — the first time in March as he struggled to push through a healthcare reform bill in the U.S. and the second in June after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
A British Airways flight came close to crashing nearly three decades ago after its engines sucked in ash from another Indonesian volcano, Mount Galunggung, about 180 km southeast of Jakarta.
Indonesia’s disaster agency said clouds of hot toxic gases continued to roll down the slopes of Merapi on Monday, hampering efforts to create a 20 km (12 miles) exclusion zone around the summit.
The country is also struggling with the aftermath of a tsunami in the remote Mentawai islands off Sumatra last week that killed at least 445 people.
Metro TV footage showed an aerial view of Borobudur, site of one of the world’s largest Buddhist temples and a UNESCO heritage site about 50 km northwest of the volcano coated with ash. (*)