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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Howard says Bali death sentences a warning to Australians

SYDNEY, Australia (AFP): Prime Minister John Howard Tuesday described the actions of two Australians sentenced to death for heroin trafficking in Bali as "stupid" and said their punishment was a warning to others.

Howard said it was "predictable" that the ringleaders of the so-called "Bali Nine" group, Andrew Chan, 22, and Myuran Sukumaran, 24, would be given the death sentences that were handed down Tuesday, given the evidence against them.

The Australian leader said his government would appeal to the Indonesian government for clemency for the pair but warned that Canberra had no power to overturn the laws of countries with harsh drug laws.

"I just say to every young Australian, please take notice of this," he told reporters.

"I even beg them not to take the terrible risk that these young people have done ... the warnings have been there for decades, how on earth any young Australian can be so stupid as to take the risk is completely beyond me."

Howard said he hoped "every young Australian, who might in their wildest imagination think they can get away with this, will take a lesson from this".

He said Indonesia had made it clear it hated drugs and had harsh penalties for drug traffickers.

"They are the penalties prescribed by the laws of Indonesia and I don't think anybody is suggesting that the law wasn't carried out," he said.

Howard also defended Australian police, who have faced criticism here for tipping off Indonesian police about the activities of the Bali Nine, all of whom are Australian.

"I think that's very unfair, the police are there to protect us from the ravages of drugs," he said.

The Bali Nine gang of eight men and one woman were arrested in April last year as they tried to smuggle 8.5 kilograms of heroin to Australia via Bali.

In the first verdicts for the group Monday, Renae Lawrence and Scott Rush were each given life sentences. Another pair, Michael Czugaj, 20, and Martin Eric Stephens, 28, were also handed lifesentences Tuesday.

The fate of three other defendants will be announced Wednesday.

AFP, Australia

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