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Page last updated at 06:39 GMT, Tuesday, 2 June 2009 07:39 UK

Australia mulls race crime laws

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Indian students rally in Melbourne, Australia, 31 May 2009
Indian students rallied against racism in Melbourne on the weekend

The authorities in Australia are considering plans to impose tougher sentences for hate crimes.

The move comes after a number of violent attacks on Indian students in the city of Melbourne.

A spate of assaults prompted about 3,000 people to take part in a rally over the weekend to demand greater protection from the police.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has publicly reassured the Indian government that Australia is not a racist country.

The latest victim of alleged hate crimes against expatriate students in Melbourne is lying in hospital with critical injuries.

Officials in Victoria state want those convicted of racially-motivated offences to be given more severe punishments.

The plan is for judges to take bigotry into account when passing sentence.

'Easy targets'

Victoria's attorney-general, Rob Hulls, says tougher action is needed.

"We want to send a message that any crime that's committed purely based on hatred or prejudice against a group of people is not to be tolerated but it ought to be something that is taken into account in the sentencing principles in this state", he said.

There has been a wave of assaults on Indian students in Melbourne in the past year.

In recent weeks, a 25-year-old man was seriously hurt after being stabbed by intruders with a screwdriver at a birthday party at his home. He remains in hospital.

His friend, Srinivas Vedantam, insists the attack was racially-motivated.

"When they entered the party and they started abusing - using the racial abuses, like 'You black Indians', like that stuff. So it ended up with a racial attack", he said.

At the weekend thousands of Indian students demonstrated in Melbourne demanding more protection from the police.

However, senior officers doubt that the violence is exclusively motivated by racial prejudice.

They have insisted that students in general have become "easy targets" for opportunistic criminals.



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SEE ALSO
'Race' attacks spark Indian rally
31 May 09 |  Asia-Pacific
'Australia encouraging racism' says Amnesty
05 Mar 02 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia rejects UN racism report
25 Mar 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Racism on the rise
01 Feb 06 |  Australia
Australian racism 'still serious'
29 Sep 08 |  Asia-Pacific

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