Indonesia threatens Australia with 'tsunami' of asylum-seekers

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Virgin's Branson calls for Indonesia death row clemency

Sydney (AFP) - An Indonesian minister has warned a "human tsunami" of asylum-seekers could be unleashed on Australia in retaliation if Canberra keeps pressing for clemency for two Australian drug smugglers on death row, as ties between the neighbours fray.

Several foreigners are due to be executed for drug-related crimes with Australia among countries pleading with Indonesian President Joko Widodo to show mercy to their citizens.

They include Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, as well as a Frenchman, a Brazilian, three Nigerians and convicts from the Philippines and Ghana.

Australia's repeated calls for clemency have included comments by Prime Minister Tony Abbott that appeared to tie his country's aid donations to the pair's fate -- a notion that caused great offence in Indonesia.

Indonesian Security Minister Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno said this week that his country could release a "human tsunami" of asylum-seekers in retaliation.

"Indonesia has done a lot in preventing illegal migrants from other countries from going to Australia," he was quoted as saying by Indonesian media.

"If Canberra keeps acting this way, Jakarta will certainly release migrants wanting to go to Australia.

"There are over 10,000 currently in Indonesia. If they are released and we let them go to Australia, it will be like a human tsunami."

Australia has struggled for years to stem a rising tide of asylum-seekers trying to reach its shores, often from transit hubs in Indonesia.

- Fraying ties -

Many have died making the hazardous journey in crammed, rickety boats, normally after paying huge fees to people-smugglers.

Abbott last month said Jakarta should remember the $1 billion of assistance sent from Australia in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed around 220,000 people.

But the bid backfired in Indonesia, where groups of protesters this week delivered bags of coins to the Australian embassy, saying they were handing back tsunami aid money.

Shouting "Shut Abbott's mouth" and "Abbott, say sorry", they trampled on a poster bearing a picture of the Australian prime minister with tape plastered over his mouth, as they handed over the coins.

Australia's most senior Islamic cleric, the Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, on Wednesday added his voice to those urging Chan and Sukumaran to be spared, travelling to Jakarta to plead with authorities in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country.

"We note that mercy and forgiveness lies at the heart of Islam for those who repent and have reformed their ways," he said in a statement after meeting Indonesia's religion minister.

"On behalf of the Islamic community of Australia, we plead, with respect and humility, for mercy for the lives of two young Australian men, who have not only shown repentance for their serious crimes, but have rehabilitated themselves and indeed others."

The Grand Mufti and several other Australian clerics will meet Indonesian Islamic leaders to put the case for mercy during their trip. Indonesia's two biggest Islamic organisations have backed Widodo's push to execute drug traffickers.

Virgin chief Richard Branson, a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, earlier threw his weight behind the anti-death penalty campaign, saying in a letter to Widodo that capital punishment was a "failed deterrent".

His plea came as Australian media said Sukumaran, 33, had made a personal appeal to Widodo by painting a portrait of the president, signing it "people can change".

Sukumaran and Chan, 31, started programmes that ranged from painting to photography in the decade they were held at Kerobokan jail in Bali after their arrests in 2005 as ringleaders of the so-called "Bali Nine" drug smuggling gang.

The French convict facing execution, Serge Atlaoui, on Wednesday appeared in a court outside Jakarta to apply for a judicial review of his death sentence, a last-ditch bid to avoid the firing squad.

His lawyers are asking for his sentence to be reduced, arguing he was merely installing machinery in a factory producing ecstasy and was not personally involved with the drugs trade.

The case was adjourned to March 25, after which lawyers expect it to be sent to the Supreme Court.