Church leaders and politicians from across the political divide have backed the call for a minute's silence for Nguyen Tuong Van, found carrying 400g (14 ounces) of heroin in Singapore en route to Australia in 2002.

But John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister, who said he would be attending a cricket match in Canberra during Friday's scheduled execution of Nguyen, 25, would not comment on the call for silence.

"Let me think about things like that. I don't want to pre-empt how I might respond. I've not heard of any such call," he told ABC radio.

He said it was his duty as host to attend the Prime Minister's XI cricket match, being played this year against the West Indies, and that he believed that Australians would understand his position.

Appeals

Howard, who has appealed to Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore's Prime Minister, to grant the Melbourne man clemency, said the execution was likely to go ahead as planned.

Protesters on the streets of
Sydney highlight Nguyen's case

"The Singaporean government, I'm sad to say, is not going to change its mind," Howard said. "It strongly holds to the view, that I don't share, that the death penalty is appropriate."

During a meeting with Lee on the sidelines of a commonwealth gathering in Malta at the weekend, Howard said that domestic feelings about the execution were intense and the hanging would result in lingering resentment towards the country's largest regional trading partner.

Calls have already emerged for boycotts of Singapore-owned companies, such as Singapore Airlines and telecommunications company Optus.

Bruce Baird, an Australian government backbencher, told The Australian newspaper that the minute's silence was an expression of compassion and a protest at the sentence.

"I call on all Australians to observe one minute's silence ... to express our compassion for this young Australian and our opposition to the imposition of this barbaric sentence," he said.

Reflection

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock also indicated that he would reflect on the hanging.

"I would certainly, at the time it might happen, have a moment of reflection," Ruddock told the newspaper, adding that he did not believe the death penalty had a place in civil society.

"I would certainly, at the time it might happen, have a moment of reflection"

Philip Ruddock,
Australian Attorney-General

A spokeswoman for Ruddock said the minister would not comment on whether a minute's silence, normally held to mark the passing of an Australian hero or a national tragedy, should be observed for the death of a convicted criminal.

"He has indicated he will pause to reflect on the passing of somebody in a situation he doesn't believe in, he's certainly not suggesting there should be a minute's silence imposed on the population," she said. "It's a matter for the individual."

Nguyen, who has said he was bringing the drugs from Cambodia to Australia to help pay off his twin brother's debt, has been the subject of intense diplomatic talks.