Australian PM promises action over attacks on Indians (Roundup)

June 1st, 2009 - 5:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Kevin Rudd Sydney/New Delhi, June 1 (IANS) Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd Monday vowed to punish attackers of Indian students as the police freed 18 students detained following massive anti-racism protests.
Rudd told parliament in Canberra that he had spoken to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and said Australians strongly deplored the string of attacks on Indians studying in the country.

He said the state authorities had been told to bring the perpetrators to justice.

In India, where the issue has caused outrage, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna expressed the hope that the problems of Indian students would get “sorted out”.

There have been four attacks on Indian students in quick succession in Melbourne and Sydney, the two largest cities of Australia. The first took place May 9 and the most recent one a week ago.

Three of the attacks on Indian students took place in Melbourne. Sravan Kumar Theerthala, 25, was hit with a screwdriver, Baljinder Singh was robbed and stabbed, and Sourabh Sharma, 21, suffered a fractured cheek bone and a broken tooth.

In Sydney, hospitality graduate Rajesh Kumar received 30 percent burns after a petrol bomb was hurled through the window of his Harris Park home.

“I speak on behalf of all Australians when I say that we deplore and condemn these attacks,” Rudd said.

“I said to (Manmohan) Singh that the more than 90,000 Indian students in Australia are welcome guests in our country … and the more than 200,000 Australians of Indian descent are welcome members of the Australian family.”

Thousands of slogan-shouting Indian students marched through Melbourne Sunday to denounce the attacks and accused the police of failing to deal with what they said were racist assaults.

According to officials, Indian students represent about 18 percent of foreign students and are worth 2 billion Australian dollars ($1.6 billion) to the economy.

Rudd said that Australia was a country of great diversity and tolerance. “That is why these recent acts of violence are all the more deplorable.”

The police meanwhile released 18 Indian students who had been detained after failing to vacate the streets during the Melbourne protests. Student leaders accused the police of brutality.

Opposition Liberal Party leader Malcolm Turnbull also condemned the muggings and beatings.

“These students are guests in our country and this recent violent behaviour has the potential to do great damage to the reputation of Australia as a destination of choice,” he said.

“We could not imagine modern Australia today without the contribution of the Indian communities present among us.”

Emerging out of the Indian parliament, External Affairs Minister Krishna confirmed that Rudd and Manmohan Singh had spoken to one another and he himself had a talk with Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.

“Our mission (in Australia) is in touch with the students from India and also the government of Australia. So I hope that things will be sorted out,” Krishna told reporters.

Meanwhile, an Indian expatriate group in Australia has suggested that Australian universities should arrange houses for Indian students in “safe areas”.

Yadu Singh, coordinator of the newly formed Community Committee on Indian Students’ Issues, also asked the students to have health and emergency insurance.

Indian students in Australia should have their own ombudsman to whom they can go in times of trouble, said the coordinator of the committee that has been formed in consultation with the Indian consulate in Sydney.

Yadu Singh said Indian students in Australia were not reporting many of the incidents. “Police must increase its visibility and start undercover patrolling. Proactive measures need to be taken rather than the reactive ones.”

But he held that “Australia is not a racist country” and that most attacks were “opportunistic attacks”.

Indian students at Oxford University in Britain condemned the racist attacks in Australia, saying they are baffled by the failure of Australian authorities to take stern measures.

“Indian students at the University of Oxford strongly deplore the violent attacks on students in Australia. We are very shocked to learn that such acts of violence against the Asian students have been frequent in the recent past,” said Aadya Shukla, president of the Oxford University Indian Society.

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