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Australia Refuses to Let PLO Open Office

An official of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Gamal Surani, left Australia yesterday after a ten-day visit having failed to secure a commitment from the Australian government to open a PLO information office here. Surani, the director of the PLO’s Cairo office and its representative on the Arab League, had claimed earlier this week that as a result of his visit there would be favorable changes in Australia’s attitude to recognizing the PLO and that it would soon have an information office here with diplomatic status. He made his prediction after a meeting with the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, in Canberra.

Yesterday an official in the Prime Minister’s office said there was no possibility of Australia’s granting the PLO diplomatic status in the fore-seeable future. Whitlam had made this clear during his meeting with Surani, the spokesman added, and he had also told him there was no possibility of the PLO establishing an information office in Australia “at present.”

In contrast to a visit last month by two representatives of the General Union of Palestinian Students, a PLO affiliate, Surani’s visit was marked by an absence of violent clashes between Jewish demonstrators and PLO supporters. But there was violence within the local Lebanese community when supporters of the Phalangists demonstrated against Surani outside the Lebanese consulate in Sydney. Police had to break up fighting between the Phalangists and PLO supporters. Nine people were arrested and a number of rifles, pistols, knives and ammunition was confiscated.

The discovery of arms among local Arabs shocked many Australians and led to demands by the Premiers of all states for the immediate deportation of Surani. The Premiers of Queens-land, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia–four of Australia’s six states–refused to give Surani any courtesies normally extended to visiting dignitaries. Leading members of all political parties signed letters of protest and petitions calling on the Australian government to deny entry to any further representatives of the PLO.

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