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Monday, 1 October, 2001, 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK
Australian right-winger attacks 'witch hunt'
One Party leader Pauline Hanson
Pauline Hanson hopes to make a political comeback
The leader of Australia's right-wing One Nation party has made a brief pre-trial appearance in court on fraud charges which carry up to a 10-year prison sentence.

Mrs Hanson, who has pleaded innocent, told a crowd of supporters outside a Brisbane magistrates court the charges were part of a "political witch hunt to discredit me".

Chinese boatpeople in Australia
One Nation is opposed to the arrival of boatpeople
She said, the aim was to damage her chances of winning a Senate seat in national elections expected to be called later this week for November.

Under Australian law, anyone convicted of a crime with a penalty of 12 months or more is barred from parliament.

However, Mrs Hanson said she was relieved the trial would not begin until 22 April, clearing the way for her candidacy.

'Emotionally draining'

"It's been very emotionally draining on me... it's something that does concern me but I'm trying to concentrate on the federal election," she said.

PM John Howard:
PM John Howard: Expected to call November election
Correspondents say One Nation is unlikely to win any seats in the lower house but may pick up one or two Senate seats.

Mrs Hanson pleaded not guilty in July to charges alleging she illegally registered her party and subsequently accepted Aus $500,000 (US $250,000) in electoral funding.

One Nation co-founder David Etteridge has also pleaded not guilty to one charge of fraud.

Mainstream concern

Mainstream political parties were shocked by the strength of support for One Nation, which had previously been largely dismissed as a fringe group of right-wing extremists.

The party's opponents accuse it of promoting racist policies, in particular in its attitude towards Asian immigration.

In parliamentary elections in 1998, One Nation polled 8.4% of the vote but Ms Hanson lost her seat and the party disintegrated amid political in-fighting and legal troubles.

However, last February the party performed well in elections in Queensland and Western Australia states, polling up to 10% of votes.

The BBC's Dominic Hughes in Sydney
"The charges carry a maximum of 10 years in jail"
See also:

22 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Pauline Hanson threatens to quit
21 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Howard's refugee gamble paying off
29 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Nauru accepts more boat people
22 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Asian-Australians fear far-right return
04 Oct 98 | Australian elections
Pauline Hanson: Voice of nationalism
31 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australian right-winger charged with fraud
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