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Australia Soothes Muslim Fears Over New Terror Laws

Australia has moved to assure Muslim leaders that new anti-terrorist laws will not unfairly target their communities. The Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has briefed a dozen senior Islamic leaders in Canberra on the new powers approved last week.

Leaders of Australia's Muslim community agreed Thursday to support tough new anti-terrorism measures after the government assured them the new laws would not discriminate against their communities.

Islamic leaders were concerned that enhanced police stop-and-search powers would be used on those of Middle Eastern appearance more than anyone else.

But Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said Thursday members of Australia's 300,000 strong Muslim community would not be unfairly singled out.

"The issues that we are dealing with are not with Muslims," said Mr. Ruddock. "They are not with people of any particular race or religion."

The head of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Dr. Ameer Ali, said he and his colleagues were "comfortable" with the government assurances and now accepted the need for the laws.

Australia's new counter-terror laws will allow suspects to be electronically surveilled or held in custody for up to 14 days without charge. There will also be tighter checks on citizenship applicants and jail terms for inciting violence.

The meeting between Islamic leaders and the government comes days after bomb attacks blamed on a radical Islamic organization killed 22 people on the Indonesian island of Bali, a popular tourist destination for Australians.

Muslim leaders told the government their greatest fear is a terrorist attack on Australian soil, which could trigger a backlash against their community, one of the country's fastest-growing minority groups.