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Australian PM Says Apology to Aborigines Will Remove 'Blight on Nation's Soul'

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says a formal apology for the past mistreatment of Aborigines will remove "a blight on the nation's soul."

Thousands of people are expected to gather in the capital, Canberra, later this week (on Wednesday) to hear Mr. Rudd deliver the apology as the first act of the new parliament.

Mr. Rudd acknowledged Sunday that a number of people have raised objections to the apology, but said he believes a majority of Australians felt an 'overwhelming desire' for the initiative.

The apology will address injustices suffered by Aborigines since European colonization began in the late 1700s. It will include a reference to the so-called "stolen generation," or Aborigines who were taken from their families as children and raised in foster care or institutions.

Mr. Rudd's center-left Labor government won power in November elections.

Mr. Rudd's predecessor, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, refused to apologize during his time in office, saying the present generation should not be held responsible for the actions of the past. Mr. Howard says he will not attend the event in Canberra Wednesday.

From 1910 to the 1970s, thousands of Aboriginal children, mostly those of mixed descent, were taken from their families to assimilate them into mainstream society. A 1997 national inquiry into the stolen generation found that many children suffered long-term psychological effects from the loss of family and culture.

Australian Aborigines make up about two percent of the country's population of 21 million. They suffer many disadvantages, such as extremely high rates of ill-health, unemployment and imprisonment.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.