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Page last updated at 04:38 GMT, Monday, 27 July 2009 05:38 UK

Islamic school ban sparks protest

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Anti-Islamic immigration slogan on protester's hat, May 2008
Some Australians still have strong views against immigration

Hundreds of people have protested against a government's decision to scrap plans to build an Islamic school in Australia's biggest city, Sydney.

Parents and prospective students have said the decision was unfair and racist.

Islamic groups have insisted that the Muslim community in Australia, which is comparatively young and fast-growing, needs more tailor-made education.

Construction of the school had been due to start this week.

Plans to build an Islamic school for 1,200 students in the Sydney suburb of Bass Hill survived objections from residents, the local council and legal challenges only to be scrapped at the last minute by the New South Wales government.

Construction was due to begin but the state has intervened to buy back the land it sold several years ago.

Busloads of angry parents and their children have demonstrated outside the education department, calling on the authorities to allow the project to go ahead.

'Un-Australian'

A spokesman for the protestors, Rafik Hussein, says the government has made a big mistake.

"We do not accept that decision. It is un-Australian," Mr Hussein said.

"It goes against the basis of, you know, what we call for as Australians; integration, cohesion and for them, look, they have just pulled this one out the hat.

"It is a shocking decision, you know. It is unfair and it is unjust," he said.

Some campaigners have said the debate has been laced with racial and religious intolerance.

Supporters of the plan to build the Islamic school believe that residents' concerns about noise and traffic congestion have become a euphemism for prejudice.

Education officials have denied that race has played any part in their decision.

They have said there are more pressing needs for the site at Bass Hill and want instead to build a special school to cater for about 40 children with disabilities.

There are more than a dozen Islamic colleges in New South Wales.

Community leaders have said that Australia's rapidly-growing Muslim population needs more faith-based education.



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