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Australia withdraws its Indonesian ambassador in execution response

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has described the killings as ‘cruel and unnecessary’. AAP/Lukas Coch

Australia’s government has taken the unprecedented step of withdrawing its ambassador, Paul Grigson, from Jakarta to register a strong protest at the execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, describing the killing by firing squad of the Australians as “cruel and unnecessary”, said this was “a dark moment in the relationship” between the two countries.

“This cannot be simply business as usual,” Abbott said. “It is very unusual, indeed unprecedented, for an ambassador to be withdrawn.”

Abbott said he absolutely understood people’s anger about what had happened but he also warned that “we have got to be very careful to ensure that we do not allow our anger to make a bad situation worse”.

“The relationship between Australia and Indonesia is important, remains important, will always be important, will become more important as time goes by,” he told a news conference in Canberra, held only hours after his arrival from overseas.

Grigson will return at the end of the week “for consultations”. It is not known how long before he is sent back to what is a critical diplomatic post for Australia.

Asked why the ambassador was being withdrawn when similar action had not been taken following the executions of Australians in other countries, Abbott said the men had been killed after serving a decade in jail, a period that in Australia would often have been the full sentence for this type of drug crime.

“Not only does there appear to have been a form of double punishment here, but these two individuals … were as rehabilitated and reformed as two people can possibly be,” he said.

While pulling out the ambassador is a drastic step, the government had little choice, given public feeling and the fact that Brazil and the Netherlands had recalled their ambassadors after recent executions of their citizens.

The Australian government received what some saw as another snub when it had to rely on reports rather than formal confirmation of the executions.

Appearing with Abbott at a joint news conference soon after 7.30am, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she had not yet been officially notified of the executions.

“Just after 3.30am Canberra time, I received notification of reports of gunfire,” Bishop said. Australia’s consul-general to Bali was at the prison but had not been allowed a telephone there, Bishop said. “We have not yet received formal identification from the Indonesian government that the executions have taken place but we can assume that they have.”

Soon after the news conference, the coffins of the group executed were ferried from the island.

Some experts on Indonesia put the lack of notification down to an inefficient system rather than a deliberate insult. The Indonesians earlier ignored an Australia’s request not to issue on Anzac Day the 72-hour notice period for the executions.

Earlier the Jakarta Post reported that eight of the prisoners had been executed. The ninth, a woman from the Philippines, was given a reprieve after fresh evidence emerged. The Post quoted a police offer saying: “The executions went well, without any disruptions.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, said that Indonesia had robbed itself of two examples of the strengths – in terms of rehabilitation - of its justice system.

“These executions significantly weaken Indonesia’s ability to plead mercy for its own citizens facing execution around the world,” they said in a joint statement.

Greens leader Christine Milne said there should be an international inquiry into the claims of corruption in the case of the two Australians. She supported the withdrawal of the ambassador.

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