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Aborigines fight for Australian land they say is theirs

May 16, 1997
Web posted at: 8:45 p.m. EDT (0045 GMT)

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Aboriginal leaders are accusing the Australian government of declaring war by abolishing their claims to native lands.

Native title laws, introduced by the previous government three years ago, became an urgent political issue after the High Court decided in December that land leased to farmers for generations could be liable to Aboriginal claim.

Up to 78 percent of Australia's nearly 3 million square miles (7.7 million square km) could be affected by native title claims.

In an attempt to resolve the dispute between farmers and Aborigines, Prime Minister John Howard produced a plan to guarantee farmers rights to land they have leased since European settlement began more than 200 years ago.

With that, Howard "made an enemy of the Aboriginal people," said Northern Land Council Chairman Galarrwuy Yunupingu.

More than 100 Aboriginal leaders, representing 65,000 Aborigines in central and northern Australia, participated in a meeting Thursday in Timber Creek. They burned a copy of the 10-point plan by Howard's conservative government.

"These points do not give Aboriginal people anywhere in this country their rights," Yunupingu said.

Aboriginal leaders

Aborigines were only counted as Australian citizens and allowed to vote in 1967. Before that, they were governed under flora and fauna laws.

Australia's 300,000 Aborigines are the most disadvantaged group in Australia's population of 18 million. They have a life expectancy 17 to 20 years less than white Australians.

Many early settlers in Australia regarded Aborigines as pests and tried to eradicate them from their land by shooting them and poisoning their sources of water.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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