India says ties with Australia may suffer over racial attacks

Angered by yet another attack on an Indian taxi driver, India warned Wednesday that people-to-people ties with Australia may be "adversely affected" if the violence did not halt now.

The blunt message was delivered by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, who said that he was "deeply anguished" over the assault in Melbourne’s northern parts Saturday.                  

"Unless there is immediate stop to the attacks, our people-to-people level exchanges, which include the area of education and tourism, will get adversely affected," the minister told reporters here.        

He said the issue had been taken up by the Indian mission in Canberra with Australian authorities.        

Krishna pointed out that in his telephonic conversation with his Australian counterpart Stephen Smith Jan 11 he had emphasized the need for "immediate corrective measures" and sought a "sense of urgency".        

In his latest statement, Krishna urged Australia to bring the attackers to book and to put in "effective security measures" that will increase the sense of well-being among Indians in that country.        

Police released images of a couple who allegedly attacked the taxi driver in Melbourne, hoping people could help identify the suspects from the footage taken during the taxi ride.                  

But police insisted that there was no evidence the attack was racially motivated.                  

The Indian driver told the police that he called an ambulance and was treated for facial injuries at the Northern Hospital.                  

He said he stopped at the Summerhill Hotel in Reservoir Saturday around 1.25 a.m. where five people were asking for a ride, AAP news agency reported.              

He refused to carry them all because of the car’s legal capacity. He only picked up a man and a woman from the group.                  

Police said the woman got angry over the driver’s refusal to take her friends. The man then punched the driver as he pulled over on Plenty Road. The driver was assaulted even as the couple got out of the cab.                  

The couple then took a tram.                  

There has been a string of attacks on Indians in Australia, with Indian taxi drivers being targeted in recent incidents.                  

Two drivers, one of them a student, were attacked Jan 16 in Australia’s Ballarat city, a day after a man was sentenced to three months in jail for assaulting and threatening to kill another Indian taxi driver.                  

The spate of attacks has caused an outcry in India. Two vicious attacks have proved fatal.        

Meanwhile, in a first public admission, a top Australian police officer Wednesday said that the authorities knew about racial attacks on Indians two years ago.        

Indians are over-represented in robbery statistics and there is a racist element to some attacks, Victoria Police Commissioner Simon Overland said.         

"There is no question, regardless of the motives, Indian students have to a degree been targeted in robberies and that is not okay," the online edition of The Australian newspaper quoted him as saying in an interview with ABC radio.         

"We recognised this problem a long time before it hit the public. We have known for two years that there has been this issue and we have been working away, at a number of levels around engaging with students, trying to make them understand the risks and how they can keep themselves safe."         

About 50 percent of assaults on Indians occurred in their workplace, mostly involving taxi drivers and convenience store clerks, he said. Some attacks were racist, Overland said.         

"I have said from day one (that) undoubtedly some of these attacks have a racist motive or there are racist elements to these attacks," he said.         

"Regardless of who they are, what they are, what colour they are, what occupation they are, my job is to make the state as safe as I can for everyone."         

–Indo-Asian News Service        

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