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July 24, 2017

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Indian students hold protest against attacks in Australia

SYDNEY -- They're getting regular beatings and, they say, the police don't care. For many Indians, it wasn't what they were expecting in Australia.

"If I had known this, I wouldn't have come here," Suseel Chandra said.

Chandra, 30, arrived eight years ago as a student and has thrived here, now running a small security business.

But on a chilly night last week he joined about 50 Indian students in Sydney's downmarket west for a protest rally against alleged race attacks which ended in a tense stand-off with Lebanese youths.

"There's no security at all," said Chandra, from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. "We're not fighting with anyone but if they want a fight, we'll be ready for it."

Indian students took to Sydney's streets in droves last week for three night-time protests sparked by a particularly vicious assault blamed on young Lebanese men, and following similar action in Melbourne.

By Wednesday, police were patrolling the multi-cultural Harris Park area in numbers, stopping and searching gangs of youths and blocking all traffic from the main protest area.

After an hour-long face-off across Wigram Street, where a Lebanese coffee shop is flanked by Indian restaurants, the disgruntled demonstrators gradually dispersed.

"The Lebanese come here and show us their (middle) fingers in front of the cops and they're not reacting," student protester Jay Singh, 22, told AFP.

"If the cops weren't here they would beat us."

According to the protesters, Indian students are regularly targeted for muggings and petty violence, while complaints to police fall on deaf ears.

"I'm not saying it's racial (attacks) all the time but definitely Indians are a bit skinnier than other guys around here," Chandra said. "That's why they think they can do anything they like with us."

The issue first blew up in Melbourne when Indian students, incensed by a wave of violence including a screwdriver stabbing which left one man in hospital, organized the first protest this month.

Their overnight sit-in ended when police dragged protesters away from the city center protest site, drawing accusations of excessive force.

The incident generated international headlines and handed Australia its biggest race relations conundrum since Sydney's Cronulla riots of 2005. However, the problem was compounded by repeated denials that the attacks had anything to do with race.

"Call it racism by its name and condemn it. The delay in acknowledging racism adds insult to injury," said a coalition of international students at Australian universities.

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