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Australia slams Indian newspaper's cartoon

Australia on Friday angrily condemned an Indian newspaper cartoon likening its police to the Ku Klux Klan over their investigations into the murder of a young Indian man.

world Updated: Jan 08, 2010 12:44 IST

Australia on Friday angrily condemned an Indian newspaper cartoon likening its police to the Ku Klux Klan over their investigations into the murder of a young Indian man.

New Delhi's Mail Today ran the cartoon showing a figure with an Australian police badge wearing a pointed white hood, following the stabbing murder of 21-year-old Indian national Nitin Garg in Melbourne last weekend.

"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," said Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

The murder of 21-year-old accounting graduate Garg has ignited tensions which have been simmering for 18 months against the backdrop of a series of attacks in Victoria state against Indians.

Indian media accused Australian police of not doing enough to protect foreign students who have fuelled a lucrative overseas education industry.

But Australian authorities have insisted there are no indications as yet that Garg, who was stabbed in the abdomen as he walked to work at a hamburger restaurant late on December 2, was the victim of a race-hate crime.

The cartoon, in which the hooded figure is saying: "We are yet to ascertain the nature of the crime", was also condemned by Victoria Police Minister Bob Cameron.

"Victoria Police is a very tolerant organisation and Victoria is a very tolerant state and to suggest that Victoria Police is racist is just plain wrong," Cameron said.

The police union representing the state's officers said the drawing was based on nothing but "a slow news day in Delhi".

"Cartoons in Australia are normally done by people who are either clever or witty and this one's neither," the secretary of Victoria's Police Association, Greg Davies, told reporters.

Davies said it was "incredibly offensive and wrong" to suggest police were not investigating the murder, and that it was too early to categorise Garg's death as a race-hate crime.

Garg's killing has prompted India to issue a travel warning to its students in Australia, and threatens to damage diplomatic ties as well as Australia's 15.4 billion US dollar education export industry.

The Federation of Indian Students in Australia said it was "too early to rule in or rule out any cause for the death of Mr Nitin Garg."

But spokesman Gautam Gupta urged police to provide statistics on the number of crimes committed by and against Indians and whether criminals have been caught and trialled in previous cases of assaults against Indians.

"Silence on the facts and figures are not going to help the situation," he said, adding that there was a rising level of cynicism amongst the Indian diaspora.

In June, police said that 1,447 people of Indian origin were victims of crime against the person -- such as robberies and assaults -- in Victoria between June 2008 and July 2009, an increase from 1,082 the previous year.

Gupta said the Australian government's response to the latest murder was seen as "merely diplomatic and an exercise in public relations and image damage control".

"The community feels alienated from the police and the legal system, and crises like these don't help at all," he said.

Indian students number 119,000 in Australia and make up 19 percent of foreign enrolments in universities and colleges which actively target the country's growing middle class.