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Saturday, 27 May, 2000, 04:10 GMT 05:10 UK
Shadow over Australian party
Traditional dancing in front of Sydney Opera House
Traditional dancing in front of Sydney Opera House
Australians are embarking on a weekend of celebrations designed to improve relations between the country's black and white communities.

Tens of thousands of people are taking part in the festival - but Aborigine leaders are angry about the Australian Prime Minister's refusal to apologise for mistreatment which has spanned generations.

Prime Minister John Howard is among the majority of Australians who oppose a collective apology for things which were done before they were born - though he says he is personally sorry for any wrongs committed,

A 'Declaration of Reconciliation' is being formally presented in Sydney on Saturday. It is a document about aboriginal aspirations which has taken nearly 10 years to make.

The declaration is a crucial part of the weekend's events, called Corroboree 2000 after the Aborigine word for ceremony.

John Howard
Prime Minister John Howard says Australia must move on
But Mr Howard has balked at language in the declaration - and even re-wrote one passage - which deals with past crimes against Aborigines.

The original version read: "As we walk the journey of healing, one part of the nation apologises and expresses its sorrow and sincere regret for the injustices of the past, so the other part accepts the apologies and forgives."

Mr Howard's revision reads: "Australians express their sorrow and profoundly regret the injustices of the past."

He has said: "Of course I'm sorry ... but it's an entirely different thing for some kind of formal national apology to be given in relation to something that was sanctioned at the time.

"That is my view, that is the view of the government and what we think should happen is that we should move on."

But no issue of race relations in Australia has aroused more conflict.

100,000 affected

Lola McNaughton was one of Australia's so-called 'stolen generation', the children taken from their Aborigine parents between 1919 and 1970 by governments who wanted to rear them in a "civilised" environment. Up to 100,000 children were affected.

Now 53, she said: "I deserve an apology from that man, even though I know I will never get it."

Lowitja O'Donohue - another member of the stolen generation agreed.

"Sorry. It is one small word, but these matters are matters of the heart and spirit," she said.

Charles Perkins, a leading member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, said: "Without an apology, there can be no real reconciliation."

But others share Mr Howard's hopes that Corroboree 2000 will help bring black and white Australians closer.

Another part of the festival will be a symbolic walk of friendship across Sydney Harbour Bridge, which the organisers expect will attract more than 100,000 people.

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See also:

02 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Aborigines target Olympics
25 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australia rejects UN racism report
28 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Reconciliation deadline dropped
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