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'Ku Klux Klan' cartoon in Indian newspaper angers Australians

Australia has reacted angrily to a cartoon published in the Indian newspaper 'Mail Today' comparing its police to the Ku Klux Klan, following the fatal stabbing of an Indian student last Saturday in Melbourne.

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AFP - 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 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 between India and Australia that have been simmering for the last 18 months following a series of attacks in Victoria state against Indians.

Indian media have accused Australian police of not doing enough to protect foreign students, who have fuelled a lucrative overseas education industry, and of failing to acknowledge the racist motives of the attackers.

The editor of the Mail Today, a popular tabloid that is partly owned by the publisher of Britain's right-wing Daily Mail, defended the decision to publish the cartoon.

"We perceive the Melbourne police to be a racist organisation simply because it seems it is not acting fast enough, or seriously enough, on the attacks on Indian students," editor Bharat Bhushan said in a statement emailed to AFP.

The cartoon "reflects the widespread feeling in India", he added.

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 January 2, was the victim of a race-hate crime.

The cartoon, in which the hooded police 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.

The Indian cartoonist, R. Prasad, said there was a sense of injustice in India and that the attitude of Australian authorities "amounted to acceptance of racism or authorising similar future crimes as mere opportunistic violence".

"The cloak of the Ku Klux Klan is a globally known and recognised cultural signifier that represents racism. It also symbolises violence in the name of race or colour," he added in an emailed statement.

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.

The editor of the Mail Today claimed that Australian police statistics showed one in 20 attacks in Melbourne was against an Indian student despite them representing just one in every 1,000 people in the city.

"Silence on the facts and figures are not going to help the situation," Gupta 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".

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.

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