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Australia protests over leader's anti-minority comments

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November 2, 1996
Web posted at: 8:00 p.m. EST (0100 GMT)

BRISBANE, Australia (CNN) -- Thousands of demonstrators marched through city streets Saturday, calling for the ouster of a politician who singled out aborigines and Asian immigrants in remarks perceived by many as racist.

Indigenous and ethnic groups also criticized the government of Prime Minister John Howard for not acting quickly enough to minimize the impact of the comments made by Pauline Hanson, elected in March as an independent member of parliament.

Hanson set the tone in her maiden parliamentary address seven weeks ago.

"I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians," said Hanson, who ran a fish-and-chips shop in a rural northern town in Queensland before entering government.

hanson

Asian immigrants comprise less than 5 percent of the country's population of 19 million, and account for about a quarter of the 100,000-odd immigrants entering Australia annually.

Hanson has also claimed excessive government support has made aborigines a "privileged class." Others disagree.

"What you see is a very underprivileged race," said aboriginal activist Anthony Carter. "We didn't wake up one day and say, 'we want to be poor.'"

Prime Minister John Howard has not directly criticized Hanson.

howard

"Everybody has a different view of what she may or may not have said," Howard said when asked about Hanson in a radio interview.

Still, on Wednesday, Howard moved a resolution through parliament that confirmed Australia's commitment to equal rights, racial tolerance and non-discriminatory immigration.

Hanson was not present for the vote, but on Thursday challenged her colleagues to call a referendum on future immigration levels. She said all immigration should be stopped until unemployment, near 9 percent, falls.

Reporter John Raedler and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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