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© Neena Bhandari, Indo Asian News Service

SYDNEY, June 8 (IANS): As more attacks were reported on Indian overseas students in Melbourne and Sydney, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith Monday reiterated that Australia takes these attacks very seriously and the country is “committed to taking its relationship with India to the front rank of Australia’s bilateral partnerships”.

The recent spate of attacks, which some students allege are racially motivated, have threatened Australia’s  $16 billion education export industry and put a strain on the bilateral relationship.

“We are taking the attacks on Indian students very, very seriously and we condemn all of the terrible incidents which have occurred. We are working very closely with the relevant state governments and also very closely with the Indian community, both in Australia and working very closely with the Indian Government through our High Commissioner McCarthy in India”, Smith told newspersons.

Smith Monday also announced Australia’s top spy, Peter Varghese, an ethnic Malayalee who was born in Kenya to Indian parents and emigrated to Australia as a child, as the new High Commissioner to India.  He will take office in August from John McCarthy, who has served in the job since 2004.

Smith said Varghese, who is the Director-General of Office of National Assessments (ONA), will be a very good High Commissioner for what is “a very important relationship”.

“The Government wants to take our relationship with India to the front rank of our bilateral relationships, and we look forward to High Commissioner Varghese pursuing good work in India on Australia's behalf”, Smith said.

On further attacks over the weekend, Smith said that he had advice that some of these attacks have not been reported to the police.

The Foreign Minister said, “…It is very important, where people have information or evidence or are the victims of attacks, that these are reported to the police. That's a very, very important part of the process”.

Australia-India bilateral relationship has been growing in recent years with the two countries closely engaging in strategic and defence matters.

India is also Australia's fastest growing export market with energy and minerals the main drivers, and the second largest market for education services.

The Australia-India Strategic Research Fund, Australia’s largest bilateral scientific research fund, has fostered increasingly close collaboration between Australian and Indian scientists.

Meanwhile, a 23-year-old Indian student was found unconscious and bleeding after being attacked in a Melbourne suburb, making him the eleventh target in the past month in a wave of alleged racial attacks, according to media reports here.

The Age newspaper reported Kamal Jit was attacked while walking home from St. Albans railway station in suburban Melbourne late Saturday night.

This was the second attack in the past two weeks on Jit, who was previously pelted with eggs by masked men after getting off a late night train.

While walking home at about 1.40 a.m., Jit said he noticed three men acting suspiciously and tried to avoid them. He then saw two men come out of a pizza shop, while another waited in a car.

“The two guys pushed me to the ground and I was hit over the head, I think with a steel rod,” the newspaper quoted Jit as saying.

He was found unconscious and bleeding by another Indian student walking home, the newspaper reported.

Jit, who required seven stitches after the blow to his head, said he did not want to live in St. Albans any longer. “It is very bad because we pay a lot of money and we are living far away from our country and from our families and we are without protection,” he said.

The latest attack happened at around the same time as an Indian student’s car was torched in Melbourne’s Springvale suburb Saturday night by suspected drug addicts. While police have ruled out a racist motive, the student has said it was a racial attack.

Vikrant Rajesh Ratan, 22, told police that his car and two other cars belonging to Indians in the apartment complex where he lives were burnt by some drug addicts whom he had refused to give money.

“They asked me for money, but I refused them. Next night they burnt my car because of that,” Ratan said.

The Age quoted Ratan saying that he was “very, very, scared”.

According to Victoria Police sources extra police, increased surveillance and mobile patrols are being deployed around train stations.

The attacks have received wide spread coverage in India, damaging Australia’s reputation as a friendly and safe study destination.

To dispel negative perceptions, Australian Education International (AEI) is planning to bring a delegation of Indian journalists to Australia and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is planning to work with major Australian media agencies to encourage stories about Indian students in Australia, reports in local media say.

© Copyright Neena Bhandari. All rights reserved. Republication, copying or using information from any content is expressly prohibited without  the permission of the writer and the news agency through which the article is syndicated.  

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