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Australia Urges its Citizens to Leave Indonesia - 2002-10-17

Australia is urging its citizens to leave Indonesia after receiving what the government said was "disturbing new information on threats to Australians." Prime Minister John Howard has ordered a full review the country's spy network in the wake of the devastating bomb attack in Bali.

The Australian government has issued a high alert for its citizens traveling throughout Southeast Asia. The Foreign Ministry on Thursday said Indonesia is now considered too dangerous for Australians. The government did not reveal the new information it says prompted the new warning.

More than 180 people were killed in the bomb blast Saturday on the Indonesian island of Bali, and most of the victims are thought to be Australians.

Indonesia is a short flight from Australia and it is a popular holiday spot. In addition, many Australian companies operate in Indonesia.

Prime Minister John Howard has maintained his government's travel advice issued before the bombing was adequate but has ordered a review of intelligence-gathering. Opposition politicians are demanding a parliamentary investigation into what they consider were lapses in security.

The United States toughened its warning to its citizens in Indonesia twice last month in response to threats identified by the CIA. It urged Americans to avoid bars, restaurants and other tourist areas.

Mr. Howard told Parliament there was no information that "specifically warned" of a bomb attack in Bali last weekend.

"The only possible relevant reference to Bali in recent intelligence reporting was its inclusion along with a number of other tourist and cultural locations across Indonesia for possible terrorist activity against United States' tourists," he said. "This intelligence was assessed by agencies and the view formed by them that no alteration in the threat assessment level - then at a high - applying to Indonesia - was warranted."

Local news media increasingly feature criticism of the government's handling of both security reviews and the assistance given to victims of the blast.

Survivors continue to arrive back in Australia. Many have returned without friends and relatives, either killed in the blast or still listed as missing. Up to 20,000 Australians were on the island at the time of the bombing.

The grim task of identifying the dead goes on in Bali. Australian authorities have fended off criticism from bereaved relatives over delays in identifying the victims, saying everything possible is being done to speed up the process.