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Rann accused of playing the race card

February 9, 2010

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Mike Rann South Australian Premier Mike Rann could face charges of inciting racial hatred as Macedonian outrage over a speech he made at a Greek festival threatens to explode into a major diplomatic incident.

The embassy of the Macedonian Republic in Canberra yesterday deplored Mr Rann's comments, which included an allegation that President Gjorge Ivanov was "stirring up trouble"in a dangerous manner and trying to steal Greek history and culture. Mr Rann cited the naming of a Macedonian airport and highway after Alexander the Great as evidence.

A spokesman for the Macedonian embassy said the ambassador was awaiting advice on a formal protest to the Rudd government.

Coalition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop called on Foreign Minister Steven Smith to admonish Mr Rann, who she accused of exploiting sensitive international issues between Greece and neighbouring Macedonia for political gain in next month's state election.

"Mr Rann has abused his position as a state premier and Mr Smith should pull him into line," Ms Bishop said. She also said Mr Smith should make clear to Macedonia that supporting comments by former Labor minister Nick Bolkus were out of line.

Mr Rann's comments were made at a Greek festival in Adelaide last November, but a video and transcript are only now getting wide circulation.

In the speech, Mr Rann vowed his government would "remain firm and unswerving" in supporting the Greeks. "It is important because no one is entitled to steal another nation's history or culture," he said. "We have a leader in Ivanov who is stirring up trouble in the most dangerous way."

The Macedonian community in South Australia is 3000 strong, and totals about 84,000 nationally.

Mr Bolkus said politics was about "expressing points of view on issues and I'm pleased he (Mr Rann) is doing it".

The controversy comes as the Rudd government is seeking Macedonia's support for a seat on the UN Security Council and will tomorrow host a forum on improving joint relations. Jason Kambovski, of the Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee, said Mr Rann had "vilified the Macedonian community". "In our view, that constitutes inciting racial hatred and vilification," he said. "It's clearly outside the sort of things a premier should be saying. We are seeking legal advice."

Mr Smith declined to comment.

The Australian

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