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AUSTRALIA BATTLING ANTI-ABORIGINAL SLANT

The Australian government announced Tuesday a $112.5 million, five-year plan aimed at ending entrenched discrimination against Australia's indigenous Aboriginal people.

Analysts said it was the most ambitious plan ever undertaken to help bridge the gap between the nation's races.The government said the money would be spent on a series of reforms to the country's criminal justice, police and custodial systems and on improving Aboriginal social and economic development.

The reforms - the government's response to an official inquiry into indigenous deaths while in custody in Australia - were announced in Canberra by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Minister Robert Tickner.

The inquiry made more than 300 recommendations which it said were necessary to remove disadvantages and injustices which have led to Aboriginal people being jailed at a rate nearly 30 times that of the general Australian population.

It investigated the circumstances of the deaths of 99 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were found hanged, or died in other circumstances, while in custody between January 1980 and May 1989.

The inquiry found the deaths were a result of "two centuries of dispossession, dispersal and disadvantage."

"Those who died were not victims of isolated acts of violence or brutality. Rather, they were victims of entrenched and institutionalized racism and discrimination," the inquiry found.

Tickner said the government accepted the inquiry's report and told the Parliament the situation had to be "tackled head on."

"We have to change community attitudes. We've got to make sure that the first Australians are no longer, effectively, second-class citizens, " Tickner said.

The initiatives Tickner announced include reforms to the courts, police and custody systems, as well as planned improvements in police relations with Aboriginals through better police education about Aboriginals, their history, culture and disadvantages.

Among the areas earmarked for major spending were $37.5 million for legal aid and $54 million on the problem of Aboriginal drug and alcohol abuse to be spent mainly in the areas of treatment, therapy, rehabilitation and after-care.

Special hostels supervised by Aboriginals will also be set up where Aboriginals can be detained rather than be kept in jail or police cells.