Australia backs away from Timor refugee plan

SYDNEY, July 9, 2010 (AFP) – Australia’s new prime minister Julia Gillard appeared Friday to be backing away from a controversial proposal to process asylum seekers bound for its shores in impoverished East Timor. Gillard Tuesday launched her bid for a regional processing centre with assurances she had discussed the plan with East Timor’s President Jose Ramos-Horta, who she said had indicated his initial support.

Her remarks were widely interpreted as inferring that the tiny island nation would be the site for such a centre, drawing a hostile response both domestically and in aid-dependent Timor.

Gillard moved late Thursday to shift the debate away from East Timor as opposition mounted, denying she had definitively said the fledgling nation would be home to the centre.

“I’m happy to be judged on what I say, and what I said in the (policy) speech was not that,” Gillard told commercial radio.

“I’m not going to leave undisturbed the impression that I made an announcement about a specific location.”

The prime minister, who deposed former leader Kevin Rudd in a lightning coup just two weeks ago, said the ultimate destination would be decided through regional negotiation.

“We