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India-Aus diplomatic ties strained after race attacks

Jun 11, 2009 08:51 AM IST India India

New Delhi: The Indian community is continuing to protest across Australia in response to several attacks on Indian students.

Some students are now arming themselves with bats to patrol subway stations in the worst-affected suburbs and are also retaliating against suspected attackers even though Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has warned that vigilante-style justice is unacceptable.

The racist attacks on Indians and retaliation on Australians have also taken their toll on the diplomatic ties between the two countries.

The battle on the streets of Melbourne and Sydney has now become a diplomatic war of words between Australia and India.

Though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Parliament on Tuesday that the two countries were friends but at least one his Cabinet colleagues found that difficult to believe.

Tourism Minister Kumari Selja has postponed a trip to promote tourism Down Under.

"I was asked to go but then I though there is no harm if we postpone it. Maybe we could have it in August," said Selija.

The Tourism Ministry had planned a series of promotional programmes in Australian cities in July to showcase India as an adventure tourism destination.

The Australian Prime Minister came on a live radio show and spoke to Indian callers to try and calm fears. But he also used that opportunity to remind New Delhi that Australians, too, were attacked in India.

"In last decade we had up 20 Australians who had either been murdered or had various forms of assault committed against them. Now, that is not a result of Australians being targeted in India. That's just a fact of violence," Rudd told the radio station.

The Indian government did not to react to either Selja postponing her trip or to Rudd's comment, choosing to play both down rather than allow the situation to worsen.

But unofficially, CNN-IBN has been told that the government doesn't endorse Selja's decision not to go to Australia, saying that this is the official line, the lead being laid down by the Prime Minister himself.