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Australian Muslims accuse PM of divisive remarks

Written by: Staff
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CANBERRA, Sep 11 (Reuters) Australian Prime Minister John Howard called on the nation's Muslims today to do more to condemn extremism, sparking criticism from Muslim leaders who said the comments were divisive.

As Australia marked the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 airliner attacks on the United States, Howard said sections of Australia's Muslim community were resisting integration and risked stoking religious fanaticism.

Muslim leaders said Howard's comments fuelled intolerance, and warned attacks on Muslims had happened in recent weeks after the prime minister called for immigrants to do more to integrate into Australian society.

''Instead of constantly singling out Muslim people, he should be trying to promote cohesion,'' Islamic Friendship Association president Keysar Trad told Reuters.

Australia, which has troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, has about 280,000 Muslims, making up about 1.5 per cent of the population.

Canberra has gradually strengthened its anti-terrorism laws since September 11, but Muslim leaders say their community has been unfairly targeted by authorities.

Howard said most Australian Muslims shared his views and condemned terrorism. ''There are a small minority who in my view perhaps don't condemn it as much as they should, and there is a resistance amongst some of those to integration in the Australian community.'' The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils said Muslim leaders had frequently condemned extremism since the U.S attacks and bombings in neighbouring Indonesia over recent years which left 92 Australians dead.

''We have told them over and over again, these extremists have no place in this country, there is no place for hatred in this country and if they can't fit into society in Australia they must pack up and go,'' president Ameer Ali told Reuters.

REUTERS DKB PC0921

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