Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd Monday condemned a spate of attacks against Indian students, as police action to break up a protest against the violence drew accusations of excessive force.
"I speak on behalf of all Australians when I say that we deplore and condemn these attacks, these are senseless acts of violence," Rudd told parliament.
"Australia is a country of great diversity, harmony and tolerance. We are a multicultural nation and we respect and embrace diversity, diversity which has enriched our nation," he said.
Several hundred students staged an overnight sit-in protest in Melbourne against the attacks, dubbed "curry bashings" by Indian media, with activists accusing police of heavy-handedness as they broke up the rally.
About 200 police moved in to clear the city-centre protest before the morning rush hour, detaining 18. Activists said individual protesters were punched and dragged away during the scuffles.
"There was definitely an amount of excessive force by Victoria police," protester Yogesh Malhotra told ABC radio. "Six (police) to one guy who was sitting down peacefully, who was punched and dragged."
Victoria police commissioner Simon Overland said the action was justified as protesters had ignored a final order to leave the busy street.
"There were blows, as I said, because arms had been linked, and there was a lot of resistance going on," he told reporters.
"If someone inadvertently got hit in the mouth and got injured I regret that, but that came about on the part of the actions of the demonstrators after they'd been given every opportunity to leave the area."
Gupta said further demonstrations would be postponed until he could guarantee they would be peaceful.
"I will urge people to stay home and stay calm," he said.
The students were demanding action after at least 70 attacks in Melbourne in the past year including four in the past fortnight.
Police say 30 percent of assaults in Melbourne's western suburbs are against Indians, a grossly disproportionate figure in a city of almost four million with an Indian student population of less than 50,000.
Overland conceded that some of the attacks were racist but insisted most involved Indian students caught up in a broader problem of escalating street violence in Australia's second-largest city.
"I think that some of the attacks are racially motivated, I think some of the attacks are opportunistic," he said.
Police had previously denied any racial element to the attacks, arguing Indian students are often simply in the wrong place at the wrong time as they travel home late with items such as mobile phones and MP3 players.
The issue came to a head late last month when Indian student Sravan Kumar Theerthala was left comatose after being stabbed with a screwdriver by gatecrashers at a party.
Source: AFP South Asian Edition