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Pope critical of Australian refugee policy: Ambassador

There were large rallies in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth on the weekend to protest at the Australian government policy towards asylum seekers. Meanwhile, the Pope's deep disquiet over Australia's treatment of asylum seekers has reportedly been revealed by Australia's Ambassador to the Holy See, Bob Halverson. The Sunday Age quoted Mr Halverson as saying: "The Pope is a bit jaundiced at the moment about the way we're handling the immigration problem with boat people."

The report from Dublin, where Mr Halverson is also Australia's Ambassador to Ireland, said leading Irish political figures had also expressed concerns about the treatment of boat people and Aborigines.

Last week, the Pope's representative in Australia, Archbishop Francesco Canalini, said he had written to the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Migrants detailing tensions at South Australia's Woomera detention centre.

Meanwhile, the Labor Party is coming under increased pressure to reverse support for immigration detention after a leading frontbencher renewed her attack on the policy. Aboriginal affairs spokeswoman Dr Carmen Lawrence, who has already called for the unwinding of the policy, told a rally in Perth she was ashamed of Labor's stance on asylum seekers. She promised she would urge her colleagues in federal and state parliaments to speak out against the policy, which she said was inhumane, brutal and demeaning.

At least 3,500 people, including refugee activists, Aboriginal and religious leaders, politicians and unionists demonstrated peacefully in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.