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Australia apology to Aborigines

13 February 08 01:55 GMT

The Australian government has made a formal apology for the past wrongs caused by successive governments on the indigenous Aboriginal population.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised in parliament to all Aborigines for laws and policies that "inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss".

He singled out the "Stolen Generations" of thousands of children forcibly removed from their families.

The apology, beamed live around the country on TV, was met with cheers.

But some Aborigines say it should have been accompanied with compensation for their suffering.

'Indignity and degradation'

In a motion passed unanimously by Australian MPs on Wednesday morning, Mr Rudd acknowledged the "past mistreatment" of all of his country's Aboriginal population.

"We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians," the motion said.

Mr Rudd said he apologised "especially" to the Stolen Generations of young Aboriginal children who were taken from their parents in a policy of assimilation which lasted from the 19th Century to the late 1960s.

"For the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry."

Australia has no Aboriginal members in parliament, but 100 leaders of the community and members of the Stolen Generations were present for the historic apology.

The leader of the Liberal opposition, Brendan Nelson, said he "strongly" welcomed the apology.

He decided to take a different position on the issue than his predecessor, former Prime Minister John Howard, who refused for over a decade to apologise to the Stolen Generations - a stance supported, polls suggest, by about 30% of Australians.

Mixed response

The government hopes the apology will repair the breach between white and black Australia and usher in a new era of recognition and reconciliation.

The parliamentary session was shown live on television as well as on public screens erected in cities across the country.

Mr Rudd received a standing ovation from MPs and onlookers in parliament, and cheers from the thousands of Australians watching outside.

Michael Mansell, a spokesman for the rights group the National Aboriginal Alliance, said the word "sorry" was one that "Stolen Generation members will be very relieved is finally being used", reported Associated Press news agency.

But the refusal to accompany the apology with any compensation has angered many Aboriginal leaders, who have called it a "cut-price sorry".

"Blackfellas will get the words, the whitefellas keep the money," summed up Noel Pearson, a respected Aboriginal leader, in The Australian newspaper.

Mr Rudd has also outlined a new agenda on Aboriginal issues, including a commitment to close the 17-year life expectancy gap between Aborigines and other Australians within a generation, was well as halving Aboriginal infant mortality rates within a decade.

Australia's 460,000 Aborigines make up 2% of the population and are the most disadvantaged group.

They have higher rates of infant mortality, drug abuse, alcoholism and unemployment than the rest of the population.

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