CANBERRA (Reuters) - Singapore rebuffed calls on Wednesday to reprieve an Australian drug smuggler who is due to hang next week, hours before a senior law officer arrived from Melbourne to make a last-ditch plea for the man's life.
The move appeared to all but seal the fate of 25-year-old Nguyen Tuong Van, whose Dec. 2 execution Australian Prime Minister John Howard said earlier in the day could now only be stopped by the Singapore government.
Lawyers for Nguyen had asked the Australian government on Monday to take the case to the United Nations International Court of Justice, but Howard said the court has no jurisdiction and there was no point giving Nguyen's mother any false hope.
In a letter to Australian members of parliament which was quoted by the Australian Associated Press (AAP), the speaker of Singapore's parliament said Nguyen must be made an example of.
"He was caught in possession of almost 400g of pure heroin, enough for more than 26,000 doses of heroin for drug addicts," Abdullah Tarmugi wrote to his Australian counterpart, David Hawker. "He knew what he was doing and the consequences of his actions."
"We cannot allow Singapore to be used as a transit for illicit drugs in the region. We know this is a painful and difficult decision for Mr Nguyen's family to accept, but we hope you and your colleagues will understand our position."
Victoria state Attorney General Rob Hulls arrived in Singapore late on Wednesday to plead for the Melbourne man's reprieve. He was due to meet Singapore Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs Ho Peng Kee on Thursday.
PUTTING ON PRESSURE
Nguyen's mother, who privately met Howard last week, and the condemned man's twin brother visited him in Singapore on Tuesday.
Australia has said Nguyen was carrying drugs from Cambodia -- transiting in Singapore -- to help his brother pay off debts to loan sharks.
"She is a dear woman who is understandably feeling completely desolate and distressed and I wished I could have found it within my executive power to have done something, but it is a matter for the government of Singapore," Howard told reporters during a visit to Pakistan late on Tuesday.
Australia asked for clemency on the grounds that Nguyen had cooperated and could be a witness in future drug cases.
Opposition Labor leader Kim Beazley said that while it was unlikely an appeal to the International Court of Justice would be successful, Australia should still proceed with the case.
"It's not simply just about winning -- it's about putting on a bit of pressure," Beazley told reporters on Wednesday.
A television straw poll showed on Wednesday that 43 percent of Australians believed Nguyen's case should be taken to the International Court of Justice, while 48 percent agreed with Howard that nothing more could be done.
Internet lobby group www.getup.org.au said nearly 6,000 Australians had emailed Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, while Amnesty International received several thousand text messages supporting its campaign opposing Nguyen's hanging.
Although Howard has dismissed calls for trade sanctions to be imposed on Singapore over the case, human rights campaigners have suggested Australians boycott companies linked to the city-state.
24 Nov 2005
By Michelle Nichols