The mass execution cements the hard line on enforcing the death penalty adopted by Indonesian President Joko Widodo as part of his war on drugs, an approach criticised by the United Nations as applying double-standards.

Four Nigerians, two Australians, a Brazilian and an Indonesian were executed in a forest clearing near the prison, as family members held a candle-light vigil within earshot of the firing range

"All eight were executed at the same second at 0035 hours," Indonesian Attorney General H.M. Prasetyo told reporters in Calicap, off the prison island of Nusakambangan in Central Java.

A ninth prisoner from the Philippines was spared at the last minute, apparently as part of a deal between Jakarta and Manila to seek more information and go after drug syndicates operating in the region.  

Both Australia and Brazil oppose capital punishment and have railed against Widodo's move to step up the pace of executions, after a five-year moratorium, since coming to office last July.

Australia said it was recalling its ambassador to Jakarta, a step already taken by Brazil over the execution of another prisoner in January. The south American country is now considering what further action it will take.

Indonesia shrugged off Australia's diplomatic response. "It is just for a while, a month or two, to signify protest," Vice President Jusuf Kalla told reporters.

Australia has deep commercial and political ties with its big neighbour, but has said the executions would not impact trade relations. Brazil, too, will be wary of jeopardising valuable defence contracts.

Widodo's steadfastness on the executions, which has strong public support at home, stands in contrast to a series of policy flip-flops since he took office six months ago. Palace insiders and government officials portray him as sometimes out of his depth and struggling to get around entrenched vested interests.  

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