Armed cops fly in to crush rioters
Armed cops fly in to crush rioters

EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE FROM THE ONLY NEWS TEAM ON THE GROUND: Asylum seekers detained on Christmas Island began rioting for the third night last night, only hours after Australian Federal Police reinforcements arrived, and amid increasing speculation the Federal Government has finalised an asylum swap deal with Malaysia.

Fires were burning within the North West Point centre, including one on the roof of a building.

Detainees could be clearly heard yelling in unison, but their words were indecipherable and many men could be seen pacing around the centre.

A detainee from inside the centre told The West Australian that the men at the heart of the protest had raided the Green Two compound and put bags and plastic chairs on the roof and set fire to them.

He said small fires had been lit inside parts of the centre.

It is understood that Serco officers who worked yesterday's day shift were held back last night to help quell the protests.

The Government is expected to announce a deal with Malaysia as early as Monday.

Under a deal announced by Prime Minister Julia Gillard in May, Malaysia will take up to 800 asylum seekers arriving by boat, in return for Australia accepting 4000 processed refugees.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said today the Malaysia agreement was a bad deal.

"I don't think it's going to stop the boats," Mr Abbott told the Nine Network. "It's now two-and-a-half months since the so-called Malaysia deal was announced and I think in that time we have had 10 boats and more than 500 people arrive."

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said yesterday the violence at the island's detention centre was inappropriate after 20 to 40 detainees caused major damage.

He said mattresses and a temporary building were torched before Federal police moved in to quell the riots using tear gas and bean bag bullets.

"This is way out of line," Mr Bowen said.

He said rioters achieved nothing except risking jail.

Pictures: Nic Ellis

An Iraqi detainee in his late 40s described by phone yesterday his fear during the riots as asylum seekers vented anger at delays in getting visas.

He said he had been in detention on the island more than a year and though not in the riots, he understood why some chose violent protests.

A department spokeswoman said applications were assessed case by case and some took longer because they were more complex.

Mr Bowen said there had been a 69 per cent fall in the number of people detained at Christmas Island since December.

Since May, the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia had fallen 1000 on the same period last year. But a boat with 52 passengers and two crew was intercepted near Christmas Island on Wednesday.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said the passengers would be taken to Christmas Island then deported to another country.

Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd will meet his Papua New Guinea counterpart soon over a possible asylum seeker deal as the Government faces continued pressure on delays to its swap deal with Malaysia.

The West Australian

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