India summons Aussie envoy

NEW DELHI: India summoned Australia's top envoy on Friday to express its concerns about a wave of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne that has raised diplomatic tensions between the two countries.

Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi had "conveyed Indian concerns very clearly" over the attacks during a meeting in New Delhi, Australia's High Commissioner (ambassador) John McCarthy told reporters.

"We totally share the perspective of the government of India on the abhorrence of these sorts of attacks and we condemn them," McCarthy said.

Ravi had urged Australia to ensure there was no recurrence of such events, he added.

The attacks on students from the subcontinent have been occurring for more than a year.

But they came into sharp focus last weekend when student Sravan Kumar Theerthala was left in a coma and fighting for his life after being stabbed with a screwdriver by gatecrashers at a party.

A 17-year-old boy has been charged with attempted murder.

The attacks have prompted Australian authorities to set up a helpline to allow victims to report any incidents to Hindi- and English-speaking operators.

Indians form the second-largest group of overseas students in Australia.

McCarthy said although it was "not clear they were racist attacks," he "would not discount" the possibility.

Indian minister Ravi told CNN-IBN television network that New Delhi would do "everything possible to protect" the safety of Indian students in Australia.

"This (attack) is not the first incident," he said.

The attacks have caused outrage in India, with the media dubbing Australia a "racist" country and newly appointed External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna saying he was "appalled" by the violence.

On Friday in Canberra, India's top diplomat in Australia, High Commissioner Sujatha Singh, rejected police claims racism was not a factor in the attacks.

Australian police have argued Indian students were often simply in the wrong place at the wrong time as they travelled home late at night with items such as mobile phones and iPods.

But Singh said the number of Indian students being targeted indicated race played a part even if many of the attacks were "opportunistic." Police estimate Indians make up 30 percent of robbery victims in Melbourne's western suburbs, where many of the students live.

There are almost 50,000 Indian students in Melbourne, boosting an international education sector that is the country's third-largest export earner, reaping 15.5 billion dollars (12.1 billion US) in 2008.