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Wanted Australian fugitive sworn in as Solomons' attorney general.

SYDNEY, July 10 Kyodo

Relations between Australia and the Solomon Islands hit a new low Tuesday after a wanted Australian fugitive was sworn in as the archipelago nation's attorney general.

The Solomon Islands government swore in Julian Moti, a lawyer and reported close friend of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, as the country's top legal officer Tuesday afternoon.

Moti is wanted in Australia on child-sex charges, but managed to evade extradition last year after escaping from Papua New Guinea to the Solomons.

Canberra has accused Sogavare of blocking Australia's efforts to extradite Moti, so he can face accusations in court that he raped a 13-year-old girl in Vanuatu in 1997.

The move was branded by Australian Prime Minister John Howard as ''provocative.''

''It is a very provocative and insensitive thing for somebody who is wanted on a criminal charge in this country to be sworn in as the attorney general,'' Howard told reporters. ''I think that is quite extraordinary.''

In a statement posted on the government website, Moti defended his innocence.

Moti said there is no legal justification for the charges Australia has brought against him, nor has any evidence of any wrongdoing been provided by Australia as part of its extradition request.

''The presumption of innocence is what I am entitled to enjoy under our constitutional bill of rights and you do not need a verdict of 'not guilty' to prove I am 'innocent.'''
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:Jul 16, 2007
Words:234
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