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Hunger strike continues -

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Hunger strike continues

Broadcast: 16/10/2009

Reporter: Hayden Cooper

Some of their number are fading, but the Sri Lankan asylum seekers moored in Indonesia are vowing
to continue their hunger strike. They are still demanding access to Australia, but the Prime
Minister has again dismissed the Tamils' call for help.


LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Some of their numbers are fading, but the Sri Lankan asylum seekers moored
in Indonesia are vowing to continue their hunger strike.

They're still demanding access to Australia, but the Prime Minister has again dismissed the call
for help from the 250 Tamils.

From Canberra, Hayden Cooper reports.

HAYDEN COOPER, REPORTER: Movement at the Merak Port as the Indonesian Navy ship makes way for the
asylum seekers' boat to dock. But it doesn't mean they're any closer to leaving the boat and their
campaign behind.

REFUGEE CHILD: Please. All the children have their parents. If our parents die, we don't have life
to live. Please, please, help us. Please help our parents.

HAYDEN COOPER: Almost a week in crowded quarters under beating sun has taken its toll. Some
exhausted Sri Lankans have been taken off for treatment. The adults are refusing food and water and
they won't relent.

Is everyone united in the hunger strike, Alex?


HAYDEN COOPER: Their spokesman wants to deal with the Australian Prime Minister, using the names of
people smugglers as leverage.

'ALEX': We are offering that we will hand over all agents who are involved in this if the
Australian Government accepts us.

HAYDEN COOPER: In Australia, political leaders are trying to show glimpses of compassion.

MALCOLM TURNBULL, OPPOSITION LEADER: Unlike Mr Rudd, I did see the pleas of the little girl on the
boat in Indonesia and it was heart-breaking.

HAYDEN COOPER: But the glimpses are fleeting at best. Nothing changes the hard line on both sides
of the political divide.

KEVIN RUDD, PRIME MINISTER: These are tough decisions. No-one likes to see anyone in pain, no-one
likes to see anyone in difficulty, but my job as Prime Minister of Australia is to make tough
decisions which are balanced, tough, fair.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: The hunger strike is a reckless and self-destructive act. It's putting lives at

HAYDEN COOPER: And the Sri Lankan Government is adding its voice.

SENAKA WALGAMPAYA, SRI LANKAN HIGH COMMISSIONER: All these people have made up all these things.

HAYDEN COOPER: The High Commissioner in Canberra suspects the asylum seekers are not who they claim
to be.

SENAKA WALGAMPAYA: They don't appear to have come from Sri Lanka because they had a very strong
accent which is not typical of Tamils in Sri Lanka. It is quite possible that these are people who
have been in the west or even in Malaysia for a period of time. Probably they have been in Europe
or in Canada or US.

HAYDEN COOPER: The distraught Tamil child pleading for Australian help attracted added suspicion.

SENAKA WALGAMPAYA: They are talking about being in the jungles and she's crying and weeping and
said we were in the jungle for one month. But quite well-nourished and she spoke very good English.
These are not from Sri Lanka.

HAYDEN COOPER: The political debate took an ugly turn too after the leader of the Nationals
expanded the Coalition's attack a little more than Malcolm Turnbull might have liked. In a press
release, Warren Truss linked the Government's softer laws with the deaths of up to 25 asylum
seekers at sea.

It was a blood-on-your-hands suggestion that had Julia Gillard seeing red.

JULIA GILLARD, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Warren Truss has today made a very vile, indeed despicable,
allegation against the Government. I would be calling on Mr Turnbull to have Mr Truss apologise for
and withdraw that allegation immediately.

HAYDEN COOPER: But it's nothing on the invective coming out of the Northern Territory Parliament.

ADAM GILES, NT COUNTRY LIBERAL MP: We're taking potential dongas, we're taking potential
demountables off disabled kids in Alice Springs to house scum, asylum seekers in Christmas Island.

HAYDEN COOPER: Not even John Howard is getting involved in this border protection war.

JOHN HOWARD, FORMER PRIME MINISTER: I don't want to talk about current politics today.

HAYDEN COOPER: From the latest boatload to arrive, 58 more asylum seekers are spending their first
night on Christmas Island. Hayden Cooper, Lateline.