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'No rift with India over terror suspect'

world Updated: Jul 18, 2007 11:52 IST

AFP
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Australia on Wednesday played down the risk of a diplomatic rift with India over the treatment of a doctor on terror charges, as he appealed against a government decision to keep him locked up.

"I don't see any rift developing in relation to this matter," Prime Minister John Howard told reporters.

India on Tuesday summoned Australia's top diplomat in New Delhi to convey its "concern" over the treatment of Mohammed Haneef, 27, who has been charged in connection with failed car bomb attacks in Britain last month.

A court granted Haneef bail on Monday on the grounds that there was no evidence of a direct link to the attacks but the government immediately revoked his visa, ensuring that he would remain in detention.

"All the Indian government has done is to go through the proper processes of inquiry about one of its citizens," Howard said.

"We would do exactly the same thing in the same circumstances if the roles were reversed."

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock also said the concerns raised by the Indian government did not indicate a diplomatic rift. "What I understand the Indian government said was that they were concerned that Dr Haneef is dealt with justly," Ruddock told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"I don't know that they were saying he was being dealt with unjustly, they were concerned to express a view that that is the process that they wish to see applied."

Indian and Australian authorities were working closely together in investigating Haneef's possible links to the British terror plots, Ruddock said.

Haneef's lawyers said later they had lodged an appeal against the decision to cancel his visa but that a hearing could be more than a month away.

The government's action has been widely criticised by legal and civil rights groups, who argue that it has undermined the principle of an accused being presumed innocent until proven guilty.

In turn, the government has been angered by the leak to a newspaper of Haneef's statement to police shortly after his arrest on July 2.

According to details of the statement published in The Australian newspaper Wednesday, Haneef said he knew nothing about the failed bombings, which have been linked to two of his second cousins living in Britain.

Police commissioner Mick Keelty said the leak had undermined the prosecution case and officials were exploring whether an offence, such as contempt of court, had been committed.