Monday, November 26, 2007

PM Rudd, the new Australian prime minister will apologise to the Aborigine community...

SYDNEY, Australia - Newly elected Australian leader Kevin Rudd renewed a commitment Monday to apologize to indigenous Aborigines for past indignities.

The issue of apologizing for policies that helped make the continent's original inhabitants its most impoverished minority is a highly divisive one in Australia.

The policies included the forcible removal of indigenous children from their families on the premise that Aborigines were a doomed race and saving the children was a humane alternative. The practice did not end until the 1970s.

The Labor Party leader said he would offer the apology on behalf of the nation early in his first term — suggesting a timeframe of next year.

Outgoing Prime Minister John Howard angered many of Australia's 450,000 Aborigines and their supporters by steadfastly refusing to offer an apology, arguing this generation should not be made to feel guilty for mistakes of the past.

Polls show most people support an apology, and Rudd had promised to do so if he was elected.

Rudd's sweeping victory over Howard in Saturday's elections ended almost 12 years of conservative rule in Australia. He immediately put signing the Kyoto Protocol on curbing greenhouse gas emissions at the top of his international agenda.

That paves the way for Australia to play a greater role at a major international meeting on tackling climate change next week in Bali, Indonesia.

Rudd's policy on Kyoto leaves the United States isolated as the only industrialized country not to ratify the pact. His plan for the phased withdrawal of Australia's 550 combat troops from Iraq also poses challenges for Canberra's relations with Washington.

Australia has about 1,600 troops in and around Iraq, and Rudd says he wants the combat contingent to come home while leaving the rest — mostly in supporting roles such as guarding diplomats — to remain. Australia also has about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, and Rudd has no plans to reduce that number.

Rudd held a second day of meetings Monday with senior bureaucrats and top advisers about taking over the levers of power. He began work on domestic priorities including his goal of providing a computer for every secondary school student and redrafting the country's labor laws.

Rudd told a news conference that implementing education and health policies were his top domestic priorities, and that he had ordered every incoming Labor legislator to visit two schools before Thursday's party meeting.

"It is important that we get to work on this straight away," Rudd said.

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