Asylum seeker riots escalate in Australia

Rioters set fire to buildings at Christmas Island detention centre.

Sydney: Rioters set fire to buildings at Australia`s Christmas Island detention centre with tear gas again used to subdue protests by angry asylum seekers, officials said on Friday.

A group of around 250-300 detainees set buildings ablaze and hurled rocks late Thursday, the Department of Immigration said, forcing the Australian Federal Police to use tear gas to regain control of the facility.

ABC radio said Molotov cocktails were thrown at police.

The latest violence followed days of unrest at the centre, which houses some 1,800 boat people.

"It`s been very challenging overnight. Fortunately, with the fine work of the Australian Federal Police we are pretty much in the process of regaining control of the detention centre," immigration department official Sandy Logan said.

"We had to take some drastic steps in evacuating several hundred detainees as a result of arson to their accommodation blocks," he added in an interview with the ABC.

Marquees used to house 200 detainees were destroyed by fire and a number of office blocks used to interview asylum seekers were also burned down, he added.

"We still have work to do to assess the full damage. We also need to assess in a head count whether there have been any abscondments at the site as a result of this quite violent protest."

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said the violent protests were "completely unacceptable".

"How can you expect our officials to process applications for asylum when that sort of thing is happening?" he said.

More than 6,500 refugees -- mostly from Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka -- arrived in Australia last year on boats from Indonesia, crowding centres to capacity and inflaming debate on Canberra`s tough mandatory detention policy.

Bureau Report

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