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Australian Delegation in India to Soothe Fears Over Student Attacks

Australian police officers, university officials and civil servants have traveled to India on a mission to reassure students and their parents about safety. The visit follows a series of attacks on young foreigners in Sydney and Melbourne.

Scores of assaults on Indian students in Melbourne and Sydney have led to an avalanche of breathless allegations about rampant racism in Australia in the India media.

The violence has tarnished the country's reputation overseas and has the potential to damage its multi-billion dollar education industry. More than 90,000 Indian expatriates study in Australia.

For nine days, a delegation of Australian government, law enforcement and academic staff will meet prospective students in India, along with their parents and Indian officials. They will seek to reassure their hosts that Australia is not a racist nation.

The visit will also give the Australians an opportunity to face the Indian media and tell their side of the story.

The leader of the delegation, Colin Walters, a public servant, says he wants to set the record straight.

"We hope that by explaining that the government is taking it extremely seriously, we hope that people will see the thing in a bit more perspective and will come to understand that Australia is not the place that has been portrayed in some parts of the Indian media," said Walters.

Australian police have increased security at train stations to protect vulnerable foreign students, who have been attacked late at night traveling on public transportation. As part of a new strategy to protect international students, a special conference will be held in Australia later this year.

Officials say that some of the assaults on young Indians in Melbourne and Sydney were racially motivated but the overriding view is that most of the attacks are the work of opportunistic criminals preying on easy targets.

The violence prompted retaliation by Indian vigilantes in Sydney, and there have been confrontations with the police during noisy demonstrations by angry students in Melbourne.

The issue has also been raised at the highest levels of government. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has reassured his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, that efforts were being made to protect international students.