New Australian PM in Indonesia for asylum-seeker talks

New Australian PM in Indonesia for asylum-seeker talks

JAKARTA - Australia's new Prime Minister Tony Abbott begins a visit to Indonesia Monday for talks on his tough refugee policies as his government came under fire for its handling of a deadly asylum boat accident.

He will hold talks with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta at the start of the two-day visit, having chosen the Indonesian capital for his first overseas trip as he seeks to bolster ties with Asia.

But the visit comes amid rising tensions after his hardline policies aimed at stopping a flood of asylum-seeker boats that depart from Indonesia for Australia sparked anger in Jakarta.

Abbott, who took power several weeks ago, campaigned on a "stop the boats" policy and has put into place a military-led operation known as Sovereign Borders, which involves turning boats around when it is safe to do so.

He sought to play down tensions ahead of the visit and focus on other issues, such as trade, but the sinking of an asylum-seeker boat off Indonesia Friday with the loss of at least 28 lives has kept boatpeople in sharp focus.

The accident off the main island of Java was the first fatal sinking since Abbott took power, and his government has been forced to defend its actions after survivors claimed that their calls for help to Australia went unheeded.

Survivors of the accident, which also left many missing, told journalists that they sent their GPS coordinates to Australian rescuers to assist them - but no one came to their aid.

Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann stressed on Sunday that the area where the accident occurred was "under Indonesian jurisdiction" and insisted Australia provided "all appropriate assistance".

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