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Threat closes Indonesian embassy

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Schapelle Corby

CANBERRA, Australia (CNN) -- Indonesia's embassy in Australia has been closed after receiving a suspicious package Wednesday that contained what Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said was a biological agent.

Downer confirmed the security scare when he addressed the Australian parliament in Canberra.

He told parliament on Wednesday afternoon the envelope, which was addressed to the Indonesian ambassador, Imron Cotan, had tested positive for "a biological agent."

The embassy's staff of 22 will remain in isolation for 48 hours.

Downer condemned the action, which Australian media outlets immediately speculated was linked to animosity over the recent conviction in Bali of a young Australian woman, Schapelle Corby, on a drug charge.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard apologized to Indonesia over the incident.

He told reporters that if the presence of a biological agent was confirmed by further tests, it would be the first such incident of its type in Australia.

Earlier, Downer told parliament: "Today I am aware the Australian Federal Police and fire brigade are investigating a possible suspicious package received this morning by the Indonesian embassy."

"The embassy has been closed, it is surrounded by fire engines, and other emergency service equipment," he said.

Downer later said further tests would be carried out on the substance found in the envelope.

The threat on the embassy comes amid a torrent of ill-feeling towards Indonesia in Australia.

Last Friday 27-year-old Corby was sentenced to 20 years jail for smuggling 4.1 kilograms (9 lbs) of marijuana into the resort island of Bali last October.

The verdict and her sentence have generated outrage in Australia and triggered threats against Indonesian diplomatic missions.

"This is a matter of great concern and it is the sort of thing that is very unhelpful to say the least," Downer said.

"As a government, we condemn this sort of behavior, we condem this sort of abuse and we would urge people who are concerned about Schapelle Corby to ensure they put their energy into supporting the legal defense team," he said.

Corby's trial attracted unprecedented media coverage in Australia, with several television networks carrying live coverage of the trial verdict.

Recent polls show the vast majority of Australians believe Corby to be innocent of the charges, accepting her explanation that marijuana found in her possession was placed in one of her unlocked bags by Australian baggage handlers involved in the drugs trade.

Downer has repeatedly called for Australians to stop "berating and denigrating" Indonesia over the conviction.

Supporters of Corby should understand "she's being held in Indonesia and if they want her back in Australia ultimately any decision about her future will be in the hands of the Indonesians," he told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio Monday.

"So continuing to berate and denigrate Indonesia isn't going to help anyone."

Prime Minister John Howard said Friday he understood why Australians felt so deeply about the Corby case.

"The fact that we are a nation whose young travel so much, it is an issue that has touched this country very directly," he said.

Many callers to radio talk shows in Australia said they regretted making donations to Indonesian tsunami victims, The Associated Press reported.

Others called for Australians to boycott the popular holiday destination of Bali and Indonesian products.

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