Australia facing race-led election

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THE Australian Senate yesterday rejected the government's proposed Aboriginal land rights reforms for a second time, making an early election this year dominated by race issues more likely.

The Senate voted down key clauses of the government's proposed land rights bill, and instead adopted a rewritten bill which included a raft of amendments that the government declared unacceptable. The Prime Minister, John Howard, can call a snap poll at any time if, as is expected, the government- controlled lower house, the House of Representatives, throws out the Senate's rewrite when it reviews it.

"The Senate has passed amendments that do make the Bill, in our view, unacceptable," Special Minister of State Nick Minchin told parliament ahead of the vote. Mr Howard is not obliged to call an election immediately, but has threatened an early poll over land rights and is expected to call an election between July and October instead of waiting until his term ends in mid-1999.

Mr Howard's land rights Bill sought to end a row between farmers and Aborigines over government pastures leased by the farmers by reducing Aborigines' land rights. Australia's Aborigines are a minority of just 386,000 people in the country's mostly white population of more than 18 million. - Reuters, Canberra

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