Fri, Jun 10, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Another bio-scare temporarily closes five embassies

AP , CANBERRA

Five foreign embassies in Australia's capital were temporarily closed yesterday after they received envelopes containing a suspicious white powder, officials said.

Tests on two of the envelopes, which were sent to the British and Japanese embassies, revealed that the powder was harmless, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) police said in a statement.

Results on the remaining envelopes, which were sent to the US, Italian and South Korean embassies and Parliament House in Canberra were still being awaited.

Troops in Iraq

All five nations have troops serving in Iraq, but police refused to comment on whether they were investigating that as a link in the case.

A spokeswoman at the US Embassy said on condition of anonymity that the building was temporarily closed as a "precautionary measure" after an envelope containing white powder was received yesterday morning.

Emergency services were called to the scene, she said, but no one was evacuated.

Italy's Deputy Ambassador Angelo Travaglini said that the envelope contained a white powder but had no accompanying note or letter explaining why the embassy had been targeted.

"It was just an envelope addressed to our embassy," he told reporters.

He said that the embassy had alerted police, and staff were awaiting results to determine whether the powder was harmful.

The packages at all locations had been secured by teams trained in dealing with hazardous material and were being investigated by emergency response crews, the ACT police spokesman said.

All of the embassies were closed, although Parliament House remained open.

String of incidents

The packages were the latest in a string of incidents that have involved government buildings in Canberra.

Earlier this week, a suspicious package containing white powder that was later found to be harmless sparked a security scare at the Indonesian Embassy, less than a week after a similar incident caused embassy staff to be quarantined and decontaminated.

That incident also proved to be a hoax, and was linked to supporters of an Australian woman convicted in Indonesia of drug smuggling in a case that sparked anger among many Australians.

The police spokesman refused officially to confirm that the latest embassy closures were a hoax, but hinted strongly that police believed the packages were harmless.

"ACT policing is very concerned about potential copycat incidents of this nature which put an incredible strain on emergency services resources and at times an unnecessary strain," the police spokesman said.

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