On Sunday, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Melbourne demanding greater police action over the attacks.

The protests began at the Royal Melbourne Hospital where Sravan Kuman Theerthala, 25, is in a critical condition after being stabbed with a screwdriver at a party.

'Unsafe'

Indian students said the authorities were not taking their complaints seriously [AFP]
Protesters later rallied at key intersections and staged a sit-in protest in front of the main railway station, blocking traffic in one of the city's busiest streets for almost 20 hours.

The Federation of Indian Students of Australia, which organised the rally, said the attacks on Indian students were racially motivated.

In a statement on its website it said it was calling for a peaceful protest to raise awareness, and promote racial harmony and peace.

The student body also wants the Indian government to declare Australia an unsafe destination for Indian students if the attacks continue.

Police officials say that while there may be a racist element to some attacks, Indian students are often assaulted because they travel alone late at night to part-time jobs and are known to carry valuable items such as laptop computers.

"I think some of the attacks are opportunistic in that they just happen to be Indian students in the wrong place at the wrong time," Simon Overland, the Victorian state police chief, told reporters on Monday.

The attacks escalated into a diplomatic issue last Friday, with Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, telephoning Kevin Rudd, his Australian counterpart, to express his concern.

The Australian and Indian foreign ministers have also held talks on the matter.

Indian students say they have become targets of racial crimes [Reuters]
Stephen Smith, the Australian foreign minister, said he had promised authorities would do everything possible to prevent the violence and prosecute the perpetrators.

"We have a particular current problem with Indian students," Smith told Ten Network television.

"It's an issue we're very well aware of and we're working very closely with the relevant state authorities as a consequence."

More than 90,000 Indian students are studying at Australian universities and student groups say they pump billions of dollars into Australia's education industry.

But, they say, Australian authorities are not taking the attacks seriously.

Export earner

Australia's international student sector is the country's third-largest export earner, behind coal and iron ore, bringing in $10bn in 2007-08.

Simon Crean, the Australian trade minister, said the government held talks with police in mid-2008 after Indian officials first raised concerns.

"It is very disturbing what has happened," he said. "It is something we do seriously have to address and we will. I think we can get on top of it."

At the weekend one of India's top celebrities reportedly showed his support for the protests by rejecting an honorary doctorate from an Australian university.
 
Amitabh Bachchan, the 66-year-old Bollywood actor said in a blog post on Saturday that he decided not to accept the award from the Queensland University of Technology after consulting his readers.

"My conscience is profoundly unsettled at the moment and there seems to be a moral disjuncture between the suffering of these students and my own approbation," Bachchan wrote in a letter to the university which he posted on his blog.

"Under the prevailing circumstances I find it in appropriate at this juncture, to accept this decoration."