Boat people pose challenge for Abbott

Boat people pose challenge for Abbott
Mr Abbott's hardline stance came under pressure when a boat with 88 passengers and two crew members was found in Australian waters within hours of his election last Saturday night.

AUSTRALIA - Australia's incoming prime minister Tony Abbott is facing his first foreign policy challenge over his pledge to "stop the boats" of asylum seekers, with Papua New Guinea applying pressure on Canberra as the first post-election people- smuggling boats arrived.

Mr Abbott already was forced to make a reassuring call to Papua New Guinea on Monday as he began work on implementing his promise to stem the flow of asylum seekers arriving by boat from camps in Indonesia.

The hardline approach was one of his most consistent and strident policy pledges in the lead-up to his landslide victory in last Saturday's federal election.

He has pledged a panoply of tough measures including using the navy to turn around boats headed for Australia, expanding offshore detention of asylum seekers in small island nations across the Pacific and turning border protection into a military operation overseen by a three-star general.

He also plans to tighten refugee appeal laws and to deny permanent residency to 30,000 asylum seekers who are yet to have their claims processed; most are originally from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.

During the election campaign, in a widely ridiculed proposal, he even promised to send joint Australian- Indonesian patrols to Indonesian villages to buy people- smuggling boats.

But Mr Abbott's stance came under immediate pressure when a boat filled with 88 passengers and two crew members was found in Australian waters within hours of his election last Saturday night.

Another boat, filled with 57 people, was later intercepted by the Australian authorities at Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean which now has a large detention centre for asylum seekers.

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