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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 January 2006, 09:56 GMT
Australia suspects 'refusing food'
Police watch as a van carrying terror suspects arrives at Sydney's Central Court Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2005.
The men are accused of belonging to a terrorist group
Ten Australian terror suspects have gone on hunger strike because they are not allowed to pray together, their relatives have said.

The men, who were arrested in November and charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation, are being held separately in a maximum security jail.

Victoria's state prisons chief said he was not prepared to "compromise public safety" to meet the men's' demands.

The 10 men were among 18 arrested during raids in Sydney and Melbourne.

They are being held in Barwon Prison in Melbourne, south-eastern Australia. According to the AAP news agency, they are being held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.

They want to be allowed to pray together on Friday afternoons, and on special religious occasions, according to the Melbourne Herald Sun.

Eight men arrested in Sydney on 8 November, charged with planning a terrorist act
At least two alleged to have had militant training in Pakistan
Another suspect arrested later in Sydney
Nine arrested in Melbourne on charges of belonging to terror group
Abu Bakr alleged to be overall leader

One of those on hunger strike, Ahmed Raad, said the group would continue their protest indefinitely until their conditions were improved, according to his wife.

She said her husband also complained he and the others were not getting enough food.

Corrections Victoria Commissioner Kelvin Anderson said his hand would not be forced by the prisoners' action.

"Prison authorities have worked closely with Muslim leaders so alleged terrorism suspects have special food, prayer times and places to pray," he said in a statement.

"Individuals charged with terrorism offences have been separated from each other for security reasons. No religious festival could ever have priority over our risk assessment arrangements."

But their lawyer, Rob Stary, said they just wanted to be treated in the same way as other prisoners in the jail.

'Good behaviour'

"I understand they don't present as any disciplinary problem or any management problem," he told ABC radio.

Nine of the men, including Abu Bakr, the alleged leader of terror cells in both Sydney and Melbourne, were arrested in Melbourne on 8 November.

Another was arrested in Sydney and transferred to Melbourne.

They are due to appear in a Melbourne court on 11 April for a pre-trial hearing.

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