Australia's Politics Keep Refugee Ship Stranded

Article excerpt

The Australian government ignored intense international pressure yesterday to allow a Norwegian container ship carrying hundreds of refugees to dock on Christmas Island.

Prime Minister John Howard, who sent heavily armed commandos to occupy the ship as it approached the Indian Ocean isle on Wednesday, is facing growing anger among Australia's electorate over the amount of money spent on asylum seekers and he is facing a general election.

Some of his MPs are describing the incident as the 'government's Falklands,' claimed opposition Labour leader Kim Beazley - a reference to the election victory Margaret Thatcher won after sending troops to the Falklands in 1983.

Mr Howard was refusing to budge from his hard-line stance that the captain of the Tampa must take his unwanted human cargo back to Indonesia.

But the Indonesian army said it would take military action to prevent the ship returning. 'The Indonesian government position is clear,' said armed forces spokesman Rear Marshal Graito Usodo.

'We will not allow these illegal migrants into the country.'

Indonesia, Norway and international aid agencies were calling for compassion from Australia. But Mr Howard faces a general election by the end of the year, and he is trailing the opposition Labour Party in most major polls.

The Tampa rescued at least 438 refugees - mostly Afghans - from a sinking Indonesian ferry on Monday and has been at the centre of an international diplomatic storm ever since. …