Cabbies threaten to blockade Melbourne airport after Indian’s stabbing

April 30th, 2008 - 10:19 am ICT by admin  

By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, April 30 (IANS) Taxi drivers Wednesday threatened to blockade Melbourne airport as a 45-year-old man was charged with attempted murder following a stabbing attack on an Indian student, who was working as a part-time taxi driver, in the Clifton Hill suburb. Parish Charles of Bennett Street in suburban Alphington was arrested from his home at 7.30 p.m. Tuesday and has been charged with attempted murder by Yarra Criminal Investigation Unit detectives. He has appeared before an out of session’s court hearing and has been remanded to appear at Melbourne Magistrates Court Wednesday.

Meanwhile, taxi drivers, mostly from the Indian sub-continent, are threatening to blockade the Melbourne airport if their demands are not met. Many drivers ripped off their shirts and sat down at Melbourne’s busiest intersection disrupting peak hour morning traffic, chanting “we want justice” and “shame, shame Victoria police”, others held placards reading “stop killing the drivers” and “help us”.

They are demanding compensation to the stabbing victim, severe punishment for the offender, improved safety, fitting vehicles with protective or security screens, pre-paid taxi rides, and special protection at certain railway stations and suburbs after hours.

State Public Transport Minister Lynne Kosky has told reporters that she will not negotiate with the drivers until they end their blockade.

Kosky told reporters: “I understand that cabbies get very upset, they do get quite a fair bit of abuse from only a few, a handful of passengers, but they do cop that which is unacceptable. But I think now it’s time to, now they’ve made their point, cease the blockade and we’ll meet with them, we’ll continue to talk about safety needs and I know the police are keen to do the same.”

About 300 taxi drivers had blockaded a major intersection in the heart of Melbourne’s Central Business District during peak traffic hour Tuesday evening.

Pritam Singh Gill, secretary of the Victorian Taxi Drivers Association, said: “The drivers are very upset with this. The government promised us security and safety for drivers more than 18 months ago and they haven’t done anything so far.”

The 23-year-old Indian student was found by a passerby just before 6 a.m. (AEST) Tuesday in a critical condition, covered in blood with multiple stab wounds to the upper body.

A Victoria Police spokesperson told IANS: “We won’t be releasing his name because none of his family is in Australia. He is in a serious but stable condition at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.”

He was stabbed several times in the chest apparently by a passenger and left to die outside a hotel in the Clifton Hill suburb of Melbourne in freezing conditions.

“It appears the offender then drove the taxi a short distance before it collided with a street sign,” the official said.

Detective Senior Constable Brendan Smith told reporters the police had found the abandoned crashed taxi at about 3 a.m. (AEST) but could not immediately find the driver.

Earlier, calls for more security for Melbourne taxi drivers from violent passengers were intensified when in August 2006, a 27-year-old part-time taxi driver, Rajneesh Joga, was killed when a 20-year-old man tried to hijack his taxi by pushing him out of the moving vehicle.

Joga, who hailed from Hyderabad, was doing his Master of Accountancy at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).

Since then there have been a series of violent incidents.

“Last time one of the taxi drivers was killed, the government promised us there will be taxi shields inside the cabs. We are treated like second-class citizens in Australia,” Sunny Singh of suburban Blackburn was quoted as saying by local media.

Late last year, another taxi driver of Indian origin sustained stab wounds inflicted by a fare-evading passenger. Baljinder Singh, 25, had told reporters: ”I don’t think that I will drive cabs (again). I’m not scared but there’s always a risk to your life.”

There are about 12,000 Indian overseas students enrolled in various universities in Melbourne and many of them drive taxis part-time to support themselves.

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