Page last updated at 12:02 GMT, Sunday, 31 May 2009 13:02 UK

'Race' attacks spark Indian rally

Indian students rally in Melbourne, Australia, 31 May 2009
The students want action from police to prevent further attacks

At least 2,000 Indian students and supporters have rallied in Australia to protest against violent attacks which they say are racially motivated.

In one of the recent attacks in Melbourne, a student was critically injured by a screwdriver.

There have been more than 70 assaults in the past year, with at least four in the past fortnight.

Police have denied any racial motivation, saying the students were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

They have said the crimes were "opportunistic", with Indian students seen as "soft targets".

Indian students tend to travel on their own, late at night - either from study or employment - and carry valuable items such as laptops and phones, Victorian Police deputy commissioner Kieran Walshe said.

Education destination

But the students and Indian officials have demanded action, including more police at train stations and other problem areas.

The students' union, which organised the march, has also called on the Indian government to declare Australia an unsafe destination for Indian students if the attacks continue.

There are thought to be about 90,000 Indian students studying at Australian universities.

Bollywood star

The march began at the hospital where an injured Indian student is battling for his life.

Sravan Kumar Theerthala, 25, was stabbed with a screwdriver a week ago.

The protest was described as largely peaceful, although the Melbourne Age website showed photos of damage to a main train station after some protesters reportedly threw missiles.

The issue has attracted prominent media coverage in India - prompting the Indian government to convey its concern in high-level meetings with Australian officials.

One of India's leading film stars, Amitabh Bachchan, turned down an honorary degree from Queensland University of Technology, saying he could not accept the it under the current circumstances.

"My conscience is profoundly unsettled at the moment" by the events, he wrote on his website.

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