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Indian man attacked and set alight in Melbourne

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Det Sgt Neil Smyth: "I believe there's no reason at this stage to consider this in any way racially motivated."

An Indian man is in a serious condition in a Melbourne hospital after being attacked and set alight by a gang.

It comes a week after an Indian graduate student was stabbed to death in the city, prompting a travel advisory from the Indian government.

Melbourne police said the latest attack appeared to be random and there was no evidence it was racially motivated.

But the attacks have prompted an angry reaction in India, where Australia has been accused of ignoring racism.

The 29-year-old man attacked on Saturday was returning home from a dinner party with his wife when he was set upon.

The gang - said by police to comprise four men - poured fluid over him and then set him alight.

The victim is now in a Melbourne hospital, where his condition has been described as serious, with burns to 15% of his body.

Police are trying to trace his burnt clothes, which he shed as he fled the scene.

Det Sgt Neil Smyth said the attack had been "an unusual event" but that it appeared to have been carried out at random.

"There is no reason at this stage to consider this in any way racially motivated," he told reporters.

"The circumstances of parking a car randomly on a side street and just some people approaching him are a bit strange and it's highly unlikely, therefore, to be a targeted attack on any individual."

Peter Batchelor, a minister for Victoria, said that whether the crime was motivated by racism or theft, it was damaging to Melbourne society.

"It diminishes our community, it diminishes us all and we're totally opposed to it," ABC news quoted him as saying.

'Dodging issue'

Australia's Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said the government "condemns all acts of violence in the strongest possible way" and that the matter was being investigated.

Indian students rally in Melbourne, Australia, 31 May 2009

But the BBC's Nick Bryant in Sydney says the latest attack is bound to increase the sense of outrage in India, following the murder last weekend of Indian graduate student Nitin Garg.

That came after a spate of attacks against Indian students last year, which deterred many from studying in Australia.

The Indian government earlier this week issued an advisory warning about the dangers of travelling to Melbourne, Australia's second largest city.

Gautam Gupta, from the Federation of Indian Students of Australia, told ABC News he was "extremely disturbed" by the attacks and had asked Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's office to intervene.

"How many times are they going to just dodge this issue?" he said.

The Australian government has criticised an Indian newspaper for printing a cartoon which depicted Australia's police force as racist.

The cartoon shows a person wearing the white robes of the Ku Klux Klan and an Australian police badge, saying: "We are yet to ascertain the nature of the crime."

Ms Gillard said the cartoon implied police were not trying hard enough to solve the crimes.

"Any suggestion of that kind is deeply, deeply offensive to the police officers involved and I would absolutely condemn the making of a comment like that," she told reporters on Friday.

The Indian community in Melbourne has said it believes racist attacks are on the rise in the city.



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Australian racism 'still serious'
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